Researchers at Australia’s University of New South Wales (UNSW) Sydney have discovered that mosses play a vital role in nourishing soil and mitigating climate change.
Mosses are a highly diverse lineage of land plants. You can find them growing on the roofs above our heads, on garden walls, and in cracks in the pavement. These small, flowerless plants can survive in extreme conditions from hot deserts to damp caves.
Now UNSW researchers have disclosed that mosses are not only good for our gardens but are also important for the entire Earth’s well-being. They found these tiny plants are playing an important role in maintaining Earth’s ecosystems and reducing our carbon footprint.
“We were originally interested in how natural systems of native vegetation that haven’t been disturbed much differ from human-made systems like parks and gardens – our green spaces,” said David Eldridge, lead and corresponding author of the study. “So for this study, we wanted to look at a bit more detail about mosses and what they actually do, in terms of providing essential services to the environment.”
Often overlooked, these tiny plants have incredible properties
For this study, researchers collected moss samples growing on soil from over 123 ecosystems across the planet, from rainforests to deserts to polar landscapes. They found these mosses cover a staggering 9.4 million square km (3.6-million-square-mile) area of the Earth.
Researchers discovered that mosses help the soil and nearby plants in 24 ways. These include cycling nutrition, maintaining soil biodiversity, decomposition of organic matter, and controlling soil pathogens harmful to plants and humans.
Moreover, mosses help in controlling climate-changing greenhouse gas carbon dioxide
They discovered these tiny plants have the potential to draw 7.08 billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere.
“So you’ve got all the global emissions from land use change, such as grazing, clearing vegetation and activities associated with agriculture – we think mosses are sucking up six times more carbon dioxide, so it’s not one to one, it’s six times better,” Eldridge said.
“We are also keen to develop strategies to reintroduce mosses into degraded soils to speed up the regeneration process,” said Eldridge. “Mosses may well provide the perfect vehicle to kick start the recovery of severely degraded urban and natural area soils.”
The study was published in the journal Nature Geoscience.