Impact of changing climate on bryophyte contributions to terrestrial water, carbon, and nitrogen cycles

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Bryophytes, including the lineages of mosses, liverworts, and hornworts, are the second-largest photoautotroph group on Earth. Recent work across terrestrial ecosystems has highlighted how bryophytes retain and control water, fix substantial amounts of carbon (C), and contribute to nitrogen (N) cycles in forests (boreal, temperate, and tropical), tundra, peatlands, grasslands, and deserts. Understanding how changing climate affects bryophyte contributions to global cycles in different ecosystems is of primary importance. However, because of their small physical size, bryophytes have been largely ignored in research on water, C, and N cycles at global scales. Here, we review the literature on how bryophytes influence global biogeochemical cycles, and we highlight that while some aspects of global change represent critical tipping points for survival, bryophytes may also buffer many ecosystems from change due to their capacity for water, C, and N uptake and storage. However, as the thresholds of resistance of bryophytes to temperature and precipitation regime changes are mostly unknown, it is challenging to predict how long this buffering capacity will remain functional. Furthermore, as ecosystems shift their global distribution in response to changing climate, the size of different bryophyte-influenced biomes will change, resulting in shifts in the magnitude of bryophyte impacts on global ecosystem functions.

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New Phytologist