Image of Research

Drying without Dying: Desiccation Tolerance in Desert Mosses


The hardy moss, Syntrichia caninervis, is shown drying without dying in one of the most arid habitats mosses can survive, the Mojave Desert. This species may be one of the world’s most desiccation-tolerant plants, however, we know little about how much time cushions spend hydrated recovering from drought, heat, and UV. My research is quantifying annual hydration dynamics for 24 microhabitats using time-lapse photography (Wingscapes©) while sampling stems to test the hypothesis: shadier habitats will extend hydration times and yield healthier mosses. Depicted here is a healthy population in a high-shade microhabitat following a night rain of 14mm that fully hydrates the plants into a “green bloom” at 9pm (top) lasting 15 hours for recovery and growth until noon, thanks to shading by neighboring shrubs (middle). The cushions dry slowly in the sun by 5:30pm, assuming their protective morphology, leaves folded upward (bottom), prepared for the next cycle of desert dormancy.