Role of mosses in post-forest fire restoration

What is “fire moss”?
             “Fire moss” is a term used to refer to the moss species: Funaria hygrometrica, Ceratodon purpureus and Bryum argenteum, which have been found colonizing post-wildfire environments, worldwide, within several months to years following a fire. Fire moss is found most prolifically at higher elevations and in areas that have burned at high severity.



What ecosystem services do fire moss species provide and why are they such good candidates for a new restoration tool?
             Each of the three fire moss species is cosmopolitan, meaning they are found on every continent in the world! (Pisa et al. 2013; Richardson 1981).  With further research on local adaptations this could make our research useful not only to land managers here in the United States, but also to the international community.
             Mosses can go dormant during periods without water and then revive when rehydrated, even after as long as 400 years! (La Farge et al. 2013).  This would allow land managers to store moss for use at during the crucial moments after a wildfire occurs.
             Researchers have observed high water holding capacity in mosses.  In fact, one study has shown that different moss species can hold between 665% and 1,470% of their dry weight! (Michel et al. 2013).  In addition, moss could directly address erosion problems by aggregating soil, and preventing particle detachment (Scotter 1963).  Both of these attributes could help to reduce the devastating effects of post-wildfire flash floods.
             After serving as soil stabilizers in the crucial post-burn period, fire mosses are quickly outcompeted by later successional grasses and vascular plant species, often in the second to fourth year following fire (Southorn 1976; Esposito et al. 1999).  This would ensure typical post-wildfire succession would take place without interference by fire moss.

What research is being done on fire moss and why?
             A team of researchers from Northern Arizona University School of Forestry’s Bowker Forest-Rangeland Soil Ecology Lab is exploring the use of fire moss as a tool for post-wildfire ecosystem restoration. Current research includes several greenhouse and field experiments to determine optimal growing strategies and conditions for the three fire moss species.  If we can assist fire moss in colonizing areas recently burned by wildfire, human and natural communities could benefit greatly from the ecosystem services that fire moss provides.

What research is being preformed at the Hart Prairie preserve?
             The Hart Prairie Preserve is the location of the first ever fire moss research field experiment!  As you explore the preserve you may see the footprints left by old slash piles that have been burned to reduce the severity of future wildfires.  These burn pile footprints serve as excellent study plots, mimicking a severe fire.  To test the viability of using fire mosses as a restoration tool, we added  a fire moss “inoculum” (dried moss fragments sprinkled on the plots) at three rates (high, low or not at all)..  This experiment allows us to see if adding moss enhances recovery of fire mosses.

How do I find out more information about fire moss and the restoration research being done on it?
             Feel free to contact us via -mail or phone!
Chris Ives, Master of Science in Forestry Candidate 
Henry Grover, Doctor of Philosophy in Forestry Candidate

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