• CO2 Exchange;
  • strategies;
  • stress resistance

Physiological characteristics of polar bryophytes are discussed in relation to geographical distribution patterns, current polar climates, and the environmental history of the polar regions. The most significant attributes conferring fitness in contemporary polar environments appear to be phenotypic plasticity, opportunistic responses in CO2, exchange, and poikilohydrous water relations leading to considerable tolerance of desiccation and frost. These features are widely distributed among bryophytes generally, and cannot be regarded as specific adaptations to polar conditions. This conclusion is consistent with the fact that most members of the polar bryophyte floras range widely in boreal forest, and in many cases also temperate regions. They are believed to have evolved under temperate conditions before the advent of polar environments during Tertiary climatic cooling, and they are characterized by an evolutionarily conservative life strategy. However, such species may show inherent, inter-population variation of an apparently adaptive nature in morphological or physiological characters. A small, contrasting assemblage of Arctic-endemic species, so far uninvestigated physiologically, shows high fertility and is suspected as being of more recent, possibly Pleistocene origin.