First Advisor

Sarah Eppley

Date of Publication

Fall 12-1-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Biology






Mosses -- Effect of stress on -- Washington (State) -- Mount Saint Helens, Mosses -- Washington (State) -- Mount Saint Helens -- Reproduction, Bryophytes -- Ecology -- Washington (State) -- Mount Saint Helens, Mount Saint Helens (Wash.) -- 1980 Eruption



Physical Description

1 online resource (vii, 70 pages)


Mosses are some of the first colonizers to disturbed sites, yet their roles in early plant community structuring are not well understood. The primary succession zones of volcanoes provide opportunities to conduct natural experiments into how mosses contribute to early plant community formation, as well as how the unique environments found in such zones affect plant traits, particularly those associated with stress tolerance. Though plant community changes have been well-documented since Mount St. Helens (MSH) volcano erupted in 1980, the volcano's moss assemblages, their influence on other plants, and their potential roles in chemical-mediated competition and biogeochemical cycling have garnered little attention. Using a natural stress gradient from primary to secondary succession zones on MSH, and in control and nutrient manipulated test plots, I sought to elucidate how populations of three dominant moss species, Polytrichum juniperinum, Ceratodon purpureus, and Racomitrium canescens, respond to abiotic stress, as well as to provide life history and interaction data on establishment stages of these stress tolerant taxa.

I first analyzed possible tradeoffs in survival strategies of four moss communities in test plots along an abiotic stress gradient. In P. juniperinum, seta specific density (mg/mm) increased significantly in response to nitrogen (N) addition. Differences in both vegetative and sexual reproductive morphological measurements were dependent on site and did not correlate with abiotic stress. In C. purpureus, the percentage of total spores germinated increased with N addition. Site dependent responses in nutrient allocation to vegetative and reproductive structures may be a result of phenotypic plasticity alone or may be a result of local adaptation. In mosses adapted to environmental stress, the allocation of nitrogen must be balanced between growth and survival. Efficient nitrogen uptake confers a competitive advantage if allocated to the higher dispersal of quickly germinating spores.

Second, my results show the moss R. canescens may be able to inhibit the germination rate of co-occurring moss spores when spores were germinated in moss gametophyte infusions. R. canescens may also inhibit the germination of the co-occurring vascular plant Lupinus lepidus when seeds are germinated within intact moss patches. By uncovering chemical-mediated interactions between mosses on the germination and initial growth of neighboring mosses and vascular plants we can gain a better understanding of the mechanisms stress tolerant plants may use to limit resource competition. Such advantages offer insight into how mosses effectively colonize and affect primary succession landscapes.


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