Bryophytes in a changing landscape: The hierarchical effects of habitat fragmentation on ecological and evolutionary processes
Testing the myriad predictions associated with the community, demographic and genetic impacts of habitat fragmentation remains a high conservatio n priority. Many bryophyte taxa are ideal model systems for experimentally testing such metapopulation-based and population genetic predictions due to their relatively fast colonisation-extinction rates, high substrate specificity, dominant haploid condition, and diminutive size. Herein, we review the community, demographic and population genetic impacts of habitat fragmentation on bryophytes, highlight the present knowledge gaps, and offer ideas on how experimental studies utilizing bryophytes may be used to address the broader conservation implications associated with fragmented ecosystems. Previous research suggests that dispersal limitation best explains observed patterns of abundance and distribution of bryophytes in some fragmented habitats. However, edge effects influence bryophyte community structure of border habitats especially where abrupt differences in micro-climatic conditions between the matrix and the forest remnant exist, or where the species pool contains members with inherently restricted ecological amplitudes. Existing studies do not agree on the relationship between basic attributes of bryophyte community structure (i.e., species richness and local density), and habitat area and degree of spatial-isolation. Demographic studies are a critical step in structuring conservation strategies, however surprisingly little empirical information exists as to the impacts of habitat fragmentation on plant population dynamics. We propose that bryophytes offer great potential for testing predictions with respect to plant population persistence in spatially-structured landscapes.