Sustain Our Nation's Forests and Grasslands

Partnership supports bryophyte survey in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico—A cooperative effort between the International Institute of Tropical Forestry and the University of Puerto Rico Herbarium led to the creation of a survey of epiphyte and bryophyte vegetation. The survey emphasized the role epiphyte and bryophyte vegetation play in supporting arthropod and invertebrate fauna and assisted in developing adaptive management guidelines for montane wetland and cloud forest vegetation communities within and outside of El Yunque National Forest. Montane cloud forests are high elevation environments characterized by persistent clouds or fogs, sometimes with small trees, with abundant lichens, mosses, ferns and other similar plants. This project shows how bryophytes are critical components in the indicators for forest health, both in El Yunque and in urban forests.

Within the forest types of El Yunque, cloud forests stand out when compared with other forest types in terms of their abundance of epiphytes, including liverworts and mosses (Bryophyta). El Yunque/Luquillo Experimental Forest contains more than one-half of Puerto Rico’s moss flora. However, the role of epiphytes and bryophytes in maintaining unique ecosystems and as forest health indicators is severely under-documented.  

One of the main goals for this project is creating educational materials for public identification and protection of the species through its inclusion in forest management plans. Bryophytes include a wide range of mosses, liverworts and anthocerotae. In the last surveys—more than 20 years ago—284 moss species, 232 hepatics and 5 anthocerotae are recognized for the area.

This project was initiated in 2017 and it is expected to be completed in 2020. Collaborators include experts from the IITF as well as the UPR Herbarium, located in Rio Piedras. To date, 34 specimens representing 20 different species have been identified at El Yunque National Forest and Las Cucharillas Swamp in Cataño. 

The project will provide community outreach and public discussion on the importance of the epiphyte and bryophyte ecosystems. Development of a bryophyte field guide for wide distribution is under development. Educational materials are projected to be available soon after the conclusion of this study. The study team will also prepare a reference collection that will be stored along with other ITTF collections in the UPR Herbarium.

The epiphyte and bryophyte vegetation survey, conducted by the International Institute of Tropical Forestry and the University of Puerto Rico Herbarium, on mosses, liverworts and hornworts in the first such survey in the island in more than 20 years. This is a Leucobryum (moss) species found during a field trip to El Yunque National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.

Amelia Merced, International Institute of Tropical Forestry collaborator and expert in byophrytes, examining the forest floor in search for byophrytes. Her efforts are in support of the epiphyte and bryophyte vegetation survey conducted by IITF in partnership with the University of Puerto Rico Herbarium. USDA Forest Service photo.