Bryophytes are important components of the vegetation in many regions of the world, constituting a major part of the biodiversity in moist forest, wetland, mountain and tundra ecosystems throughout the world. Together, bryophytes are the second largest group of land plants after flowering plants. Bryophytes are of ecological significance in a variety of ecosystems, and participate in key ecological functions such as erosion prevention, plant succession, production of phytomass, decomposition, and as primary producers in the cycling of carbon and nitrogen. This group of organisms also have interesting biological properties such as anti-microbial, anti-fungal, cytotoxic, insect anti-feedant, and muscle relaxing activity. There is a broad consensus that its members are a paraphyletic grade of several distinct lineages; i.e., Marchantiophyta (liverworts), Anthocerotophyta (hornworts), and Bryophyta (mosses). A growing body of evidence is now supporting liverworts as the earliest diverging lineage of embryophytes, i.e., sister to all other groups of land plants.
Active field programs
Bryology staff currently have active field programs in New Zealand, Chile, and Fiji.
John Engel studies the Hepaticae (liverworts) of the south temperate and subantarctic regions. His focus is on producing detailed monographic revisions of key genera and on using hepatics as tools to investigate southern hemisphere biogeography. He is currently working on a multivolume treatment of the hepatics of New Zealand. Matt von Konrat is the Collections Manager for bryophytes and pteridophytes. His research focus is on the systematics of bryophytes, particularly hepatics. He is interested in the investigation of these plants from a biogeographical level though to an organismal and molecular level, and using a variety of techniques and approaches to help elucidate species and evolutionary relationships. This includes an active interest in aspects of plant ecology, reproductive biology, morphology, ultrastructure, and molecular biology. He is also taking an active interest in the use of alternative forms of media for dissemination of botanical knowledge and the use of interactive keys on the web. Gary Merrill researches the systematics and geography of mosses, particularly Polytrichaceae. In addition, he is surveying the bryophytes of the Chicago region, studying the potential of these organisms as indicators of habitat quality, and the impact of various management procedures on bryophytes. This project also involves the documentation of changes in the distribution and diversity of bryophytes over the past century, as part of the Chicago Wilderness initiative. Laura Briscoe is conducting a taxonomic investigation of Tylimanthus and Marsupidium (Acrobolbaceae) in southern South America.