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 Tuesday, 7 January, 2003, 13:09 GMT
Love on the rocks
Limestone moss, English Nature/NHM
The moss grows mainly on old limestone walls
For the first time since 1866, UK botanists believe that they have found spores from a rare type of moss.

Nowell's limestone moss (Zygodon gracilis) lives on old limestone walls in the Yorkshire Dales.

As the male and female plants were too far apart for them to reproduce, the species became endangered.

Botanists say that the discovery of spores - which can only be created when the moss reproduces - could help the species recover from the verge of extinction.

Long-distance relationship

The moss was first discovered by botanist John Nowell in 1866 but has declined as limestone walls have deteriorated.

Yorkshire Dales
The moss only grows in the Yorkshire Dales
Clumps of the moss previously found were either all male or all female.

But now scientists from the Natural History Museum, London; the University of Bradford and English Nature have found some of the moss "fruiting" for the first known time in more than 130 years.

The moss does not produce fruits as such but develops spores after reproduction between male and female plants.

Even if both male and female clumps were found in the same location, they were too far apart to reproduce.

Exciting find

Dr Fred Rumsey, from the Natural History Museum, was one of the botanists who found the reproducing moss.

"Locating the moss was very exciting, but even more so when we realised it hadn't been able to reproduce successfully all these years because the moss patches, which are either male or female and mate via the spreading of spores, just haven't been close enough to each other to reproduce.

"Of the 500 moss patches we measured and recorded in the Dales, we found just one small area fruiting - a discovery that gives us a great opportunity to slow down, and possibly even halt, the extinction of a very interesting, but mostly overlooked species."

The botanists plan to move the mosses closer together so they can reproduce to help ensure the plants' future survival.

Dr Rumsey told BBC News Online: "The only way we can ensure these colonies are successful is to do a bit of match-making."


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See also:

02 Jan 03 | England
02 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
03 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
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