S. caninervis, the most common moss in the Mojave Desert, spends most of the year parched and brown – in a state of suspended animation waiting for another rain. “It’s something only a mother can love,” Dr. said. Mishler. However, mosses have a long life; one cluster could easily be the hundredth anniversary.
Although S. caninervis accounted for more than two-thirds of the hypolithic moss in Wrightwood, scientists have identified another species, Tortula inermis. This moss usually grows at lower, warmer altitudes, but has been able to thrive in Wrightwood, appearing to have relied on quartz to protect against the cold.
These quartz oases, which are common in Wrightwood, appear only in what Mrs Ekwealor calls the “goldilocks” situation. If the quartz is too small, it will be too easy to ventilate to allow something to grow under it. If it is too large or opaque, not enough light will shine on photosynthesis. If it is too bright, it could become a miniature greenhouse and capture even more heat. Quartz must be right: about one inch thick and milky to transmit up to 4 percent of incident light.
But the vastness of the desert and the abundance of rocks means it can become a matter of course, Ms. Ekwealor said: “It’s a low probability, but a lot of opportunities,” she said.
The study emphasized the importance of a microenvironment that may be invisible to the human eye, Ms Ekwealor added. Warren-Rhodes noted that hypolithic communities, as small as they affect, affect carbon cycling and soil conservation.
After presenting this research at several conferences, Ms. Ekwealor said that she now receives sporadic texts from people identifying hypolithic mosses throughout the country. “I hope people start throwing rocks to see what’s out there,” she said. After a break, she added, “And gently lay them down again so that the moss can survive.”
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