Economic Importance of Bryophytes: From Ecosystems to Medicine

Bryophytes are a group of non-vascular plants that includes mosses, liverworts, and hornworts. Bryophytes play an essential role in various economic aspects from ecology and medicine to horticulture and environmental monitoring. This article on Economic Importance of Bryophytes, we discuss the beneficial and harmful aspects of bryophytes.

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Bryophytes Economic Importance

(A). Role in Ecology and Biodiversity Conservation

(1). Habitat Creation and Stabilization

Ø  Bryophytes are pioneers in colonizing various habitats, including rocky surfaces, soil, and decaying wood. (Learn more: Ecological Succession)

Ø  Their ability to retain moisture and nutrients contributes to soil stabilization.

Ø  They also prevent the erosion of soil (Barbula, Bryum) and prove a foundation for other plant species to establish themselves.

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Ø  Anthoceros can fix atmospheric nitrogen and can enrich the soil nutrients.

economic importance of bryophytes

Ø  Peat moss (Sphagnum) can change the banks of lakes or shallow bodies of water into solid soil which supports vegetation. This process is called bog succession.

conservation of bryophyte biodiversity

(2). Carbon Sequestration

Ø  Carbon sequestration: The process of capturing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to mitigate its impact on climate change and global warming.

Ø  Bryophytes play a crucial role in capturing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, aiding in the mitigation of climate change.

Ø  Peat-forming mosses sequester significant amounts of carbon and contribute to carbon sinks in wetland ecosystems.

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(3). Biodiversity Consecration

Ø  Bryophytes serve as indicators of ecosystem health and diversity.

Ø  Their presence or absence can provide valuable insights into the overall health of an ecosystem.

Ø  This makes them one of the components of biodiversity assessments and conservation efforts.

(4). Peat Formation

Ø  Peat is a brown or dark colour substance formed by the gradual compression and carbonization of the partially decomposed pieces of dead vegetative matter in bogs.

Ø  Sphagnum is an aquatic moss. While growing in the water, it secretes certain acids to the water body.

Ø  This acid makes unfavourable conditions for the growth of decomposing organisms like bacteria and fungi.

Ø  Absence of oxygen and decomposing microorganisms slows down the decaying process of dead material and large amount of dead material is added year by year. It is called peat (that is why Sphagnum is called peat moss).

use of peat in gardening

Ø  Uses of peat: (a) Used as fuel in Ireland, Scotland, and Northern Europe. (b) In production of various products like ethyl alcohol, ammonium sulphate, peat, tar, ammonia, paraffin, dye, tannin materials etc. (c) In horticulture to improve the soil texture, and (d) In surgical dressings

(B). Medicinal and Pharmaceutical Applications of Bryophytes

(1). Antibacterial Properties

Ø  Bryophytes have shown promising antibacterial properties. Example: Conocephalum conicum, Dumortiera, Sphagnum protoricense, S. strictum.

Ø  Some species are used in traditional medicine to treat wounds, infections, and skin disorders.

Ø  Extracts from certain mosses have been studied for their potential to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Ø  Sphagnum moss is used for the preparation of absorbent bandages, they also have good antiseptic properties.

Ø  Marchantia polymorpha is used in the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis.

Ø  Some species of Polytrichum has been used for the treatment of kidney stones.

which bryophyte is used as medicine

Ø  Extracts from Dicranum scoparium (moss) have shown antimicrobial activity against certain bacteria and fungi, indicating its potential as a source of bioactive compounds.

Ø  Extracts from Funaria sps have shown antimicrobial activity against bacteria, making it a candidate for further investigation.

(2). Antioxidant Potential

Ø  Bryophytes possess compounds with antioxidant properties, which can have applications in pharmaceuticals and health products.

Ø  These antioxidants protect cells from oxidative stress and reducing the risk of chronic diseases.

medicinal uses of bryophytes

(C). Horticulture and Green Infrastructure

(1). Horticultural Substrate and Soil Improvement

Ø  Bryophytes can improve soil structure and fertility by enhancing water retention and nutrient availability.

Ø  Mosses are often used for soil conditioning. They increase the aeration and water holding capacity of soil.

Ø  Sphagnum moss is used extensively in potting mixtures for growing plants in nurseries and conservatories due to its water holding capacity and antimicrobial properties.

Ø  Sphagnum moss is also used in air layering.

(2). Green Roofs and Walls

Ø  Bryophytes are well-suited for green roof and wall installations due to their ability to thrive in limited soil and water conditions.

Ø  They contribute to urban biodiversity, reduce heat island effects, and improve air quality.

(D). Environmental Monitoring and Biomonitoring

(1). Air Quality Assessment

Ø  Certain bryophytes are sensitive to air pollutants, making them valuable bioindicators for assessing air quality and pollution levels.

Ø  Their presence or absence can indicate the health of an environment.

Ø  Some bryophytes indicate the presence of copper in the soil (Example: Mielichhoferia elongata, M. mielichhoferi, and Scopelophila)

Ø  Presence of Sphagnum species indicates acid condition in the soil.

bryophyte bioindicator

(2). Water Quality Monitoring

Ø  Bryophytes are used in biomonitoring programs to assess water quality in aquatic ecosystems.

Ø  Their sensitivity to changes in water chemistry and pollution levels provides insights into the overall health of water bodies.

(E). Cultural and Aesthetic Value

(1). Traditional Uses

Ø  Bryophytes have cultural and traditional significance in various societies.

Ø  They have been used in weaving, thatching, and as decorative elements in crafts.

Ø  Some mosses are used as packing materials, they also have good insect repelling activity.

Ø  Peat moss is a good fuel, it is extensively used as fuel in many European countries.

(2). Aesthetic Value

Ø  Mosses, with their delicate and intricate structures, are popular in floral arrangements, terrariums, and indoor gardens, contributing to the ornamental and aesthetic value of landscapes and interiors.

Ø  A terrarium with mosses is called Mossarium.

what is mossarium

(F). In Experimental Botany

Ø  Liverworts and mosses play an important role as research tools in various fields of Botany such as genetics.

Ø  For the first time in a liverwort, Sphaerocarpos, the mechanism of sex determination in plants was discovered.

Ø  Physcomitrium patens (spreading earthmoss) is used as a model organism for studies on plant evolution, developmental biology, and physiology.

bryophyte model organism in genetics

Summary: Bryophytes, despite their small size, possess many economic values that extend across diverse sectors. From their ecological roles in carbon sequestration and biodiversity conservation to their potential in medicine, horticulture, and environmental monitoring, bryophytes are an invaluable natural resource. Recognizing and harnessing their economic significance can not only contribute to sustainable development but also deepen our understanding of the intricate web of life on Earth.

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