Madison, WI, March 6, 2009 -- As the first plant life to emerge from the water and develop on dry earth, bryophytes offer a unique opportunity for researchers to understand the development of protections against ultraviolet radiation. The three varieties of bryophites (liverworts, hornworts, and mosses) have long been utilized as indicators of the health of local environments, but with the recent effects of climate change and the depleting ozone layer, these plants present an important measure in their ability to withstand increased exposure to UVR.
Recently, a new experiment studying bryophytes was applied at a large-enrollment undergraduate biology course at Minnesota State University. The laboratory exercise introduced students to the impacts of ultraviolet radiation on plant populations using a readily accessible and easily propagated liverwort.
The article detailing the effectiveness of the experiment, authored by Linda Fuselier and Nicole True, was published in the Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education.
The lab exercise focused on ultraviolet radiation impacts on liverwort asexual propagules, and students were required to formulate and test a hypothesis based on background reading related to impacts of ultraviolet radiation on ecological systems and humans. The experiment was also designed to improve student's computational skills, expand their repertoire of statistical techniques, and provide an introduction to writing a full, formal lab report in the form of a "brief communication" for a scientific journal.
The researchers believe that studying the effects of ultraviolet radiation on bryophytes can help scientists understand its impacts on crops and other natural plant communities. Because plants to not have the same ability to move out of direct harm from ultraviolet radiation, they have developed a variety of systems to reduce its impacts through evolution. As bryophytes were the first plants to emerge from aquatic life, they represent a key link in this evolution.
As bryophytes are among the least understood plant life despite their abundance, another of the experiment's goals was to familiarize students with their history of development and their functions within an environment. In addition, students also gained greater experience with experimental methods and reporting statistics in lab reports. A majority of students agreed that these goals were met.