Cryptogamic diversity, biology and conservation on South Atlantic Islands

Lead Research Organisation: The Natural History Museum
Department Name: Life Sciences


Oceanic islands (i.e. islands that have never been connected to a continent) are natural laboratories of evolutionary and biogeographic processes and key to understanding these in continental settings. Seen traditionally as migratory dead ends, it is now thought that these islands may instead represent 'dynamic refugia' and 'migratory stepping stones' for species that are effective dispersers, such as spore-producing plants (mosses, liverworts, hornworts, ferns and lycopods collectively known as cryptogams).
Thus, cryptogams are the key terrestrial plants for understanding the biogeography of oceanic islands; they are primary colonists and hence are sentinel organisms for tracking ecological successions and soil development and, unlike many flowering plants, they have almost all arrived naturally by wind-borne propagules rather than as human introductions.
The oceanic South Atlantic Islands include Ascension, St. Helena and Tristan da Cunha (all British Overseas Territories) and the Brazilian counterparts, Fernando de Noronha and Trindade. We are putting together a team of UK and Brazilian scientists who already have considerable experience of working on some of these islands to conduct the first comprehensive study of their cryptogamic diversity and biogeography. This work will enable the drawing up of biodiversity action plans, conservation strategies and lead to the recognition of the islands as key locations for monitoring and understanding the effects of climate change.
Our research programme will include extensive field work, which coupled with thorough taxonomic analyses, will lead to the first comprehensive assessment of species richness and diversity of both Brazilian and British South Atlantic Oceanic Islands. Major outputs will be authoritative species checklists for the five islands; an illustrated Flora for Fernando de Noronha like those already published for St. Helena and Ascension Island; popular articles to increase public awareness; taxonomic revisions and articles on island biogeography in peer-reviewed journals. These outputs will provide essential baseline data that will: 1) highlight and publicize the importance of the cryptogamic flora to visitors of the islands; 2) allow for better informed and targeted conservation efforts- e.g. Fernando de Noronha is a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site; 3) provide key reference works for long-term monitoring of the effects of climate change and anthropogenic impacts on the biodiversity of the islands ; 4) form the basis for joint research programmes and funding applications by UK and Brazilian partners on island biogeography embracing the origins of the floras, their evolution, endemism and reproductive biology.
Embedded in these activities is a major training programme for early career Brazilian scientists and conservation personnel through workshops and fieldwork. This will enable a new generation of Brazilian scientists to carry out independent, state-of-the-art cryptogamic research.

Planned Impact

This research programme will be the foundation of a major, long-term collaboration between UK and Brazilian scientists on a range of botanical disciplines from field work and traditional herbarium taxonomy to state-of-the-art anatomical and molecular studies. The data generated will be invaluable to a wide section of the scientific community as well as to Island Conservation Departments globally. We will liaise with government policy makers on best practice for maintaining and enhancing island environments.
Beyond the academic community, the research programme will also benefit the museum and botanic garden visitors, and the amateur naturalist community. We will reach these diverse audiences through a combination of tailored standard academic practices and innovative means of communication led by experts in science communication both in the UK and in Brazil.
Museum public and amateur naturalists will be engaged in several ways. We will communicate (onsite and remotely via webcam) through our "Nature Live" series presentations at The Natural History Museum and through our Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity, which plays a key role in supporting networks of societies and other partners working in the field of natural history across the UK.


10 25 50
Description A greater understanding of the cryptogamic diversity and biogeography of the South Atlantic Oceanic Islands.

We have compiled new species lists for our targeted islands, which include new species for the islands (some of which are endemics). We have initiated new collaborations with island conservation personnel and trained conservation staff on bryophyte field identification and conservation techniques. We have trained Brazilian early career researchers and delivered an international workshop highlighting our collaborative work and exploring opportunities for further collaborations and funding.
Brazilian collaborators visited the NHM for two months in 2018 and collaborated with us on identifying specimens collected during previous field trips to St. Helena and Ferndando de Noronha. These specimens are now being incorporated into our NHM bryophyte collections. Our collaborative work has resulted in several publications, with
an e-book 'Mosses, Liverworts & Hornworts of Fernando de Noronha and Trindade Islands', comparing the bryophyte flora of two of our four targeted islands (Brazilian) now nearing completion. We expect the e-book to be available online before the end of 2020.
Exploitation Route Biogeography studies; conservation efforts
Sectors Education,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description Presentation given to St. Helena Conservation on bryoflora of Oceanic Islands and challenges at conserving bryophytes. A e-book 'Mosses, liverworts and hornworts of Fernando de Noronha and Trindade islands' (nearing completion), will be soon be available on line, providing detailed information on the bryophyte floras of the two Brazilian Atlantic Islands. The book will be an important resource for local conservationists but is also aimed at raising awareness of the importance of bryophyte in the general public.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

Title Bryophyte specimens database 
Description All specimens collected during collaborative field trips to St. Helena and Fernando de Noronha have been databased and incorporated into the NHM bryophyte collections, where they are accessible to other researchers 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Increased modern holdings of mosses, liverworts and hornworts from St. Helena and Fernando de Noronha. We were also gifted bryophyte specimens from Tristan de Cunha, and these are now also being studied for incorporation in our collections. 
Description Diversity, Evolution and Conservation of the South Atlantic Island Floras symposium 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A one day symposium to be held on 21st March 2017. The aim is to bring together the international community of scientists and conservation agencies actively involved in island biodiversity studies and conservation efforts.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Oral presentation on 'The bryophyte flora of Ascension Island' at the AGM and Paper Reading Meeting of the British Bryological Society, Manchester 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Oral presentation on 'The bryophyte flora of Ascension Island' at the AGM and Paper Reading Meeting of the British Bryological Society, Manchester
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Training of St. Helena Conservation Team on bryophyte identification skills 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact My colleagues and I visited St. Helena, South Atlantic Ocean, in 2017 for 10 days. During this time we trained St. Helena Conservation Officers in bryophyte field identification and herbarium techniques
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Workshop - Botanical Gardens, Rio de Janeiro 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Team members and postgraduate students joined a three day workshop on the bryoflora of South Atlantic Oceanic Islands
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015