Conservation Genetics

, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 1033–1042 | Cite as

Which moss is which? Identification of the threatened moss Orthodontium gracile using molecular and morphological techniques

  • J. K. RowntreeEmail author
  • R. S. Cowan
  • M. Leggett
  • M. M. Ramsay
  • M. F. Fay
Research Article


Taxonomic misidentification has potentially serious consequences for the management of threatened species. Closely related moss species are often difficult to distinguish from each other using morphological characteristics. Here we compared the use of molecular (DNA barcoding of the trnL-F intron, AFLPs) and morphological techniques to demonstrate that ex situ cultures, held for re-introduction trails, of the UK critically endangered moss Orthodontium gracile were contaminated with the potentially invasive species O. lineare. Barcoding techniques and AFLPs were both successful in determining Orthodontium species identity. There was some discrepancy between determinations from molecular and morphological techniques and some individuals were misidentified using morphological characteristics alone. When species identity is critical, for example prior to re-establishment or re-introduction programmes, we recommend that identity of mosses and other bryophytes be established by molecular techniques, in particular barcoding of the trnL-F intron.


Ex situ conservation Threatened bryophytes Barcoding trnL-F intron AFLP Stereid cells 



We thank R. D. Porley, Natural England (previously English Nature), J. G. Duckett, Queen Mary University of London, D. G. Long, Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh and G. Rothero for Scottish Natural Heritage for collecting and donating English, reference and Scottish plants. Thanks also to R. F. Preziosi, The University of Manchester for statistical advice, the Mycology Section at RBG, Kew for use of the microscope and camera, R. D. Porley and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on an earlier draft. Funding for the ex situ project was provided by Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Countryside Council for Wales. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew wishes to acknowledge the financial support of Natural England for the molecular work.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. K. Rowntree
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • R. S. Cowan
    • 1
  • M. Leggett
    • 1
  • M. M. Ramsay
    • 1
  • M. F. Fay
    • 1
  1. 1.Royal Botanic GardensKew, RichmondUK
  2. 2.Faculty of Life SciencesUniversity of ManchesterManchesterUK

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