Polar Biology

, Volume 37, Issue 5, pp 651–664 | Cite as

The ecological role of moss in a polar desert: implications for aboveground–belowground and terrestrial–aquatic linkages

  • Becky A. BallEmail author
  • Ross A. Virginia
Original Paper


The McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica is one of the coldest and driest habitats on the planet. As vascular plants are absent in this region, moss is the main form of aboveground primary production with a potentially important contribution to biogeochemical cycling, yet little is known about their ecological role. To determine the relationship between moss and soil properties relevant to biogeochemistry, we sampled both from a variety of locations in the Dry Valleys. Moss presence was compared to soil properties, and we measured the plasticity of moss stoichiometry (C:N:P) across gradients in nutrient availability. Results demonstrate that many soil properties significantly differed with moss presence, particularly conductivity and pH, but there is no strong evidence that this is caused by the moss presence and not the conditions inherent to the microsites where moss was found. There is great variability in moss stoichiometry, with some significant differences between sites, but generally variability within sites is larger than variation among sites. Results suggest that the main source of moss nutrients is from the soil, rather than water, but correlations with any one nutrient source are weak, suggesting a great deal of plasticity in moss stoichiometry and nutrient uptake.


Aboveground–belowground interactions Terrestrial–aquatic interface Moss Stoichiometry McMurdo Dry Valleys Polar desert Antarctica 



This research was supported by NSF Division of Environmental Biology and Office of Polar Programs Grants to the McMurdo LTER (ANT-0423595), as well as research awards from the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences at ASU. We thank students Jen Bagby, Jennifer Bailard, Aaron Cappelli, Katie Moerlein, and Elizabeth Traver for their help in the field and lab, as well as Satoshi Ishii for providing additional moss distribution data. Logistic support was provided by Raytheon Polar Services and Petroleum Helicopters, Inc. Paul Zietz at Dartmouth and Cathy Kochert, Roy Erickson, and Sara Ryan at the Goldwater Environmental Lab (ASU) provided analytical services. Inigo San Gil produced the distribution maps.

Supplementary material

300_2014_1465_MOESM1_ESM.docx (2.6 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 2698 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Mathematical and Natural SciencesArizona State University at the West CampusGlendaleUSA
  2. 2.Environmental Studies ProgramDartmouth CollegeHanoverUSA

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