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Larger capsules enhance short-range spore dispersal in Sphagnum, but what happens further away?


  • Sebastian Sundberg

S. Sundberg, Dept of Plant Ecology, Evolutionary Biology Centre, Uppsala Univ., Villavägen 14, SE-752 36 Uppsala, Sweden (


I made a dispersal experiment with six Sphagnum (peat moss) species, representing a wide range of spore and capsule sizes. Spore deposition was recorded at nine distances up to 3.2 m during two four-day periods with sunny conditions in July and August.

Deposition patterns in all species fitted well to the inverse power law (deposition per unit area proportional to distanceb), with rates of decline b ranging from −1.84 to −2.35 among species (R2>0.99). However, even when these curves are extended to infinity for the four species with b<−2, they fail to explain all spores being dispersed (e.g. only 11% in S. squarrosum). Difference in rates of decline b between the periods, despite similar horizontal wind speeds and directions, indicates the importance of thermal updrafts. Spore capsule diameter negatively correlated with the proportions of spores remaining in dehisced capsules (range 5–16%), being deposited within the colony (range 2–14%), and being deposited between the colony edge and the outer sampled perimeter (range 7–22%), probably because a larger capsule shoots the spores higher into the air, in effect meaning an increased initial release height. Spore diameter positively affected deposition outside the colony edge. The deposition curves together with observed long-distance colonisations, omnipresence in mires of many Sphagnum species and genetic evidence, suggest that Sphagnum spores regularly travel far.

Spatial extension of the empirical deposition curves at a regional scale indicate that with increasing isolation of target sites, the higher the proportion of spores would originate from sources farther away than the nearest sources. Given spatial patterns in the source populations, this would result in higher genetic (and species) diversity per coloniser with increasing isolation, thus counteracting differentiation.

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