Bryolog 24 (25 May 2021)
- SO BE FREE 26 Mojave Desert—Check website regularly for more details … and dance for rain.
- Brent Mishler announces the reelection of Larke Reeber as Secretary and Bill Thiessen as Field-trip Director. Read the message from the Chapter President in its entirety HERE…
- SO BE FREE 25 at Saratoga Springs was an Instant Classic! Brief summary with stunning photos HERE…
- A warm welcome to Shane Hanofee, our new Social Media Chair, and many thanks to previous Chair, Jenna Ekwealor, and interim Chair, Kiamara Ludwig. More about Shane HERE…
- Check out our Facebook page, including additional photos of SO BE FREE and more! It is not necessary to be a member of Facebook to view the administrative posts, however to see member posts and participate in discussions you must join the group. https://www.facebook.com/BryophyteCNPS/
- “Calcicolous and calcifugous bryophytes along the desert edge of the California Floristic Province” by Daniel Palmer and Paul Wilson has been published in The Bryologist…
- David Wagner shares his beautiful images of Lophozia longidens (PDF) and of Lophozia obtusa (PDF), two leafy liverwort species recently found for the first time in California by Jim Shevock in the Russian Wilderness, Klamath National Forest, Siskiyou County.
- Paul Wilson reviews Brent Mishler’s new book, What, if Anything, are Species? HERE…
The election results are in: Larke Reeber was reelected for another 2-year term as Secretary, and Bill Thiessen was reelected for another 2-year term as Field-trip Director. They have both done excellent work for our chapter, and we thank them for agreeing to continue for another term. Every year we elect two members of the Bryophyte Chapter’s Board of Directors. Please consider serving as an officer in the future; feel free to get in touch with me to volunteer to stand for election next year for either the President Elect or Treasurer position.
Please join or renew your membership to CNPS and the Bryophyte Chapter; this allows us to continue our many chapter activities. You can do it directly from our Chapter HOMEPAGE. Just be sure to list Bryophyte as your chapter affiliation (and you should also affiliate with your local CNPS chapter without any additional cost).
There are many things you can do personally to further the missions of the chapter: inventory poorly known regions, observe phenology and ecological associations of bryophytes, teach people about them by leading walks and workshops, and be sure bryophytes are considered in your local conservation activities. For help and advice, feel free to contact any of the folks on the Contacts list including the liaisons with your local CNPS chapters.
The 25th SO BE FREE was held April 30 – May 3, 2021 at the Saratoga Springs Retreat Center in western Lake County, California, about 100 miles north of San Francisco, in the heart of the North Coast Ranges. Logistics were excellently handled by Bill Thiessen and Kiamara Ludwig; an interesting and diverse set of field trips was coordinated by Ed Dearing, David Toren, Marisela de Santa Anna, and Kerry Heise.
Forty were in attendance, including several students. We held a Saturday morning beginners’ session with an introductory slideshow followed by a walk around the grounds (including the famous spring itself that features a massive tufa formation precipitated by Didymodon tophaceus). There were field trips in Lake County to the drier Inner Coast ranges with chaparral and oak woodland, a rich riparian habitat at Bridge Arbor Road near Robinson Creek, and the unusually large vernal pool at Boggs Lake Preserve. In addition, we went to beautiful Muir Canyon in Mendocino County, along Muir Mill Road south from Willits, where more than 50 bryophyte taxa were seen on rich dripping banks and streamside, as rheophytes and aquatics in the watercourse, and in redwood forest.
We had outdoor evening presentations and discussions, as well as the annual business meeting of the Bryophyte Chapter of the California Native Plant Society. Among topics discussed were future SO BE FREE sites: Zzyzx in the Mojave Desert next March (2022), the central Sierra Nevada in June 2023, and possibly central Arizona for 2024 (a committee including John Spence and Jason Brooks was appointed to look into possible locations). We all enjoyed being able to interact with our fellow bryologists after a long year of isolation, as you can see from the happy group photo below.
Shane is a self-taught botanist living and working in the northern Sierra. He became interested specifically in bryophytes after attending a moss field trip led by Jim Shevock some years back and purchasing a copy of California Mosses. From the pages of that book, inspiration arose. Once aware of the vast diversity of forms and the often hyper-specific habitat preferences exhibited by these tiny plants, Shane decided to absorb this often overlooked niche of botany into his self-studies. He has a particular interest in digesting academic research and bryological knowledge and parsing it out in easy-to-understand terms for a wide audience, to elucidate these organisms to people who hadn’t given them much thought or consideration in the past, and open their eyes to engage and embrace the bryophytes around them.
Our chapter’s current president, Brent Mishler, has put together a retrospective of his writings deconstructing the rank of species. The ebook is free, titled: What, if Anything, are Species? It consists largely of past articles put in the order in which they were written. New sections are presented to introduce, bridge, and conclude the book. Although the book is philosophical, I found it easy to read.
The problem with the word “species” is that it means too many things. Consider the apparent syllogism:
• Species are taxa.
• Taxa are real (at least phylogenetic taxonomists try to find and recognize only taxa for which there exists evidence of reality).
∴ So, you might think that species are real.
However, the logic doesn’t exactly work. Why? Because the word “species” is equivocal. In the first premise, it refers to species taxa, for example, Ruralis (Syntrichia, Musci)*, whereas in the conclusion, the word flirts with the species category, or in other words, it flirts with the rank that is somewhere below the rank of genus and above the rank of variety. Yes, the taxon Ruralis is presumably real, but the choice to rank it as a species would be at best breaking a continuous gradation of degree of divergence into a small number of Linnaean categories (species, genus, family, etc.). A slightly different way to critique the would-be syllogism is to say that the species Syntrichia ruralis is interpreted to be more than just a taxon, and the extra claim that it is a comparable unit to Homo sapiens would be fallacious.
Mishler has been working on this topic for nearly forty years, in between other research programs and in between a lot of teaching (often to beginners) and a whole lot of administration (often to curmudgeons). He didn’t start out where he ended up. Neither was the field of systematics the same forty years ago as it is now, and I doubt it will be the same forty years from now.
Mishler’s early writings, in the first half of the book, don’t try to get rid of the rank that shall not be used. Early on, he was just trying to untangle the usage of the word. He clarified his favored criterion for recognizing taxa (evidence of monophyly) and separated that from a pluralistic stance on criteria for ranking (in some cases divergence in mating system, in others a shift in niche, in others a revolution in development, whatever). He chooses to use the definition of monophyly that looks at clades in a snapshot in time: a monophyletic group is all and only the living descendants of a shared ancestor. Early in his career, Mishler just wanted species to be the lowest “important” rank. Species should be the most exclusive taxa that are standouts worth recognizing. They should be monophyletic, like genera, families, and other taxa worth recognizing. This was when phylogenetic classification was just starting to become the platform of the ruling party in systematics. Systematists were out to formally name the branches of the tree of life. That agenda has now progressed quite a bit with lots and lots of monophyletic groups having been found and named.
The thing is, it has been very stressful to name those groups with the names that were given before phylogenetic systematics, names governed by traditional nomenclatural codes and practices that are the antithesis of tree thinking. Thus, about half way through Mishler’s career, another plank was proposed to be added to the phylogenetic party platform, namely that the traditional rules of nomenclature are counterproductive and new rules should be worked out, rules that eventually became the PhyloCode (2020: CRC Press). One problem among several with the traditional rules is that when one discovers that, say, the family Ephemeraceae is within the family Pottiaceae, then under the old rules one is obliged to do something—possibly get rid of the little Ephemeraceae or demote it in rank or maybe increase the rank of the larger family to a suborder Pottianae. Such instability runs rampant when every organism is forced to belong to some taxon or other at each Linnaean rank. The solution is to move to a rank-free alternative classification. If neither the Ephemerina nor the Pottina were ranked, then the discovery that the former is inside the latter would be merely scintillating, not disruptive. Similarly, getting rid of the pesky rank of genus, Syntrichia could be inside Tortula. And, Mishler argues, the erstwhile “species” Subpapillosissima could be inside Ruralis (Syntrichia, Pottina, Musci, Embryophyta). Turns out, as regards the species rank, Mishler was outvoted for the 1st edition of the PhyloCode, but he says, we should stay tuned.
Mishler’s contribution is philosophical, but it is not impractical, he says. The book is dressed up liberally with citations of how doing things Mishler’s way leads to better studies of ecology, diversification, biogeography, and better conservation. All of this takes more sophisticated statistics than we’re used to. We can’t just count species. Also, the statistics need to draw off of the best existing phylogeny. Still, Mishler’s way is not just a pedantic argument. Presumably herbaria would be organized in some way other than alphabetically by family name and within family by Linnaean binomial. The part of Ruralis that is not Subpapillosissima (nor any other recognized segregate) would not be named, but one could still have a folder labeled “Other Ruralis” just as we have folders for specimens identified to genus but not to species. Science today is more sophisticated than it was forty years ago. Forty years from now, today’s girl geniuses will feel the strain. For my own part, I’m not as committed as Mishler is to co-opting as many of the old names as possible. To me, the phylonyms are an alternative system. The two systems could coexist for the foreseeable future. We do face the same problem that Microsoft has faced: how much do we compromise the product to make it backwards compatible with legacy functions? I think it was and is stressful to bend the traditional system into only recognizing monophyletic groups, and one of the reasons I like having a new alternative system is that we get to leave alone a lot of names of seemingly paraphyletic groups, names that people might like to continue using. This includes a lot of Linnaean binomials of species, even if they are paraphyletic.