How does moss photosynthesis relate to leaf and canopy structure? Trait relationships for 10 Hawaiian species of contrasting light habitats


Author for correspondence:
Lawren Sack
Tel: +1 310 825 6525


  •  Mosses are an understudied group of plants that can potentially confirm or expand principles of plant function described for tracheophytes, from which they diverge strongly in structure.
  •  We quantified 35 physiological and morphological traits from cell-, leaf- and canopy-level, for 10 ground-, trunk- and branch-dwelling Hawaiian species. We hypothesized that trait values would reflect the distinctive growth form and slow growth of mosses, but also that trait correlations would be analogous to those of tracheophytes.
  •  The moss species had low leaf mass per area and low gas exchange rate. Unlike for tracheophytes, light-saturated photosynthetic rate per mass (Amass) did not correlate with habitat irradiance. Other photosynthetic parameters and structural traits were aligned with microhabitat irradiance, driving an inter-correlation of traits including leaf area, cell size, cell wall thickness, and canopy density. In addition, we found a coordination of traits linked with structural allocation, including costa size, canopy height and Amass. Across species, Amass and nitrogen concentration correlated negatively with canopy mass per area, analogous to linkages found for the ‘leaf economic spectrum’, with canopy mass per area replacing leaf mass per area.
  •  Despite divergence of mosses and tracheophytes in leaf size and function, analogous trait coordination has arisen during ecological differentiation.