- author, Katie Field and Sylvia Brissel
- roll, Conversation*
When people think of unusual plants, they hardly think of algae.
The algae blends in with the green surroundings and the plant life seems to be growing everywhere whether you like it or not.
But this group of plants—which actually includes between 12,000 and 15,000 species—is staggering. Their unique flexibility allows them to grow almost everywhere on earth.
Algae help scientists understand the evolution of life and make up one of the oldest surviving groups of plants.
One A recent study An Australian team found that algae is the lifeblood of habitats around the world, improving plants and soil almost everywhere they grow.
But despite their importance, algae are often overlooked due to their small size. The smallest algae, known as micromosses, are only a few millimeters long.
and even The largest moss in the world – Dawsonia superbaa species native to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands – it reaches a height of only 50 cm.
It’s a giant among algae, but still smaller than the average houseplant.
The fact is that algae help maintain entire ecosystems.
The contribution of algae to the structure and functioning of modern ecosystems is often overlooked. Our knowledge of more complex plants is much greater.
The Australian study looked in detail at the relationship between algae and their habitat, concluding that they are essential for soil health.
The researchers took algae samples from ecosystems around the world, from tropical rainforests to arctic environments and arid deserts.
Combining the results obtained from these samples with the analysis of previous research, their findings show that algae are essential in all habitats in which they are found.
Algae store huge amounts of carbon and help soils cycle nutrients and decompose organic matter.
Algae can even help save unstable ecosystems.
Some species of algae, including species of the genus algaeThey absorb water and retain it in their tissues. This regulates the flow of water in the area, preventing flooding and creating peatland habitats that are home to rare flora and fauna.
Algae also provide unique habitats for microscopic life. You Tardigradesfor example, are the eight-legged microorganisms, also known as water bears.
In English, they are called “moss bears,” as they live by climbing “forests” of mosses in search of food.
Tardigrades are nearly indestructible and can even survive in space, entering a death-like state called cryptobiosis.
Algae, liverworts, and hornworts are part of a group of plants known as mosses.
It evolved more than 400 million years ago and still shares many characteristics with the first plants to appear on Earth, such as its small size and lack of true roots.
And unlike most plants, algae do not have a continuous column of water flowing inside them through xylem and phloem—the way some of the oldest plants in Earth’s history do.
Rather, these small plants have their own conductive systems To move substances through their bodies.
It absorbs water and nutrients from rainwater and deposits dust on its surface. And their hair-like “roots,” called rhizomes, attach the algae to the surface on which they grow.
Algae’s ability to survive in hostile environments is almost unparalleled. Therefore, they are excellent for studying the evolution of plants, which largely took place in harsh conditions on the planet.
Studying the genetics and physiology of mosses and other modern algae provided researchers with information about the adaptations that allowed plants to move from water to land, such as the formation of Partnerships with fungi to access soil nutrients, for example.
One of the most important characteristics of terrestrial mosses is their tolerance to almost complete desiccation.
When water is scarce, algae can go into a state of suspended animation, which greatly reduces their metabolic activity, allowing them to survive until conditions improve.
Some species, such as desert algae Syntrichia caninervishe can survive for a hundred years in this state of hibernation and be “reborn” within hours after being hydrated again.
It could be a study Drought tolerance of algae could help scientists discover new ways to protect agricultural crops from severe droughts in the future.
These small plants are also intertwined with human history.
For all that, we should probably think twice before pulling moss out of a lawn.
Instead, take a moment to reflect on the natural beauty of its tender green breeches–and its history as one of the most fearless explorers in the planet’s history.
* Katie Field is Professor of Soil-Plant Processes at the University of Sheffield, UK.
Sylvia Presell is Head of Life Sciences Research at the Natural History Museum, London.
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