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Botany: Research and Projects

The focus of our studies is on the taxonomy of bryophytes; phytogeography, especially historical biogeography related to moss evolution; and bryophyte and lichen ecology in montane, boreal, and grassland ecosystems.

The core project of the Botany program is a taxonomic revision of the moss genera Grimmia for North America and the closely related Coscinodon for the world. Thousands of specimens on loan from major herbaria around the world are currently being examined. The species in both genera are being redescribed. Two new taxonomic entities were discovered in the genus Coscinodon, one from South America and the other from the Yukon and northern British Columbia. At least four new species are in the process of being described for Grimmia, most of them from California with an additional species from the New England states. The latter species, Grimmia milleri, has long been misidentified as being either one of two common North American species. Instead it turns out that G. milleri is a good species, new to science, and its closest relative is a species endemic to a few mountain tops in central Africa! A second new species, Grimmia toreni, from northern California has characters intermediate between two well-established subgenera of Grimmia and calls into question our current understandings of relationships of species within the genus. Fieldwork in central British Columbia during the summer of 2005 helped resolve our understanding of a large gap in the distribution of acidic rock loving moss species in western North America. Geological maps revealed extensive acid rock deposits and yet no acidic loving species were being reported for the region. It turns out there are extensive deposits of arsenic in the area and in moist conditions this chemical pollutes the ground water and probably limits the distribution of sensitive plant species.

A second long-term project has been conducted with Rod Vickers, Plains Archaeologist at the Archaeological Survey of Alberta. The project title is "Can lichens be used to date Aboriginal stone features?" We started the project on Sundial Medicine Wheel which is located between Calgary and Lethbridge. This is a complex medicine wheel. We are using a number of lichenological techniques in an effort to determine the relative dates of the rings and cairns that make up the wheel. Successional sequences, thalli diameters and presence of indicator species are being used. Our results indicate that there is a differential pattern of lichen growth on the various stone features that make up the wheel suggesting that it was built in a number of stages.