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February 2017 Biodiversity Spotlight

Liverworts


Photo Courtesy of Matt von Konrat

Liverwort is the common name for small nonvascular plants in the division Marchantiophyta. They are categorized as Bryophytes along with mosses and hornworts. There are more than 9,000 species of liverworts currently known and they are distributed worldwide. Liverworts are more diverse than some vascular plant lineages of the same taxonomic rank. They are also quite beautiful, displaying a vast variety of color, "leaf" morphology, and an impressive array of molecular and morphological adaptations to cope with drying out.

The liverwort pictured above is a leafy liverwort, or scale moss, belonging to the genus Frullania. This genus is very diverse and taxonomically complex with a worldwide distribution. Many Frullania species have interesting chemical compounds such as those that exhibit cytotoxicity against certain human cancer cell lines.

Although liverworts are not generally thought of as economically important, they play vital roles as producers, key components in nutrient recycling, reservoirs for symbiotic microorganisms, and nesting materials. Bryophytes and lichens have also been identified as sensitive indicators of environmental change. The TCN, North American Lichens and Bryophytes: Sensitive Indicators of Environmental Quality and Change, is digitizing 2.3 million museum specimens from over 60 institutional collections to address questions of how species distributions change after major environmental events, both in the past and in the future.

Thank you to Christine Davis from the University of Florida for providing valuable feedback.

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