Bryophyte diversity and evolution: windows into the early evolution of land plants

Am J Bot. 2011 Mar;98(3):352-69. doi: 10.3732/ajb.1000316. Epub 2011 Feb 25.


The "bryophytes" comprise three phyla of plants united by a similar haploid-dominant life cycle and unbranched sporophytes bearing one sporangium: the liverworts (Marchantiophyta), mosses (Bryophyta), and hornworts (Anthocerophyta). Combined, these groups include some 20000 species. As descendents of embryophytes that diverged before tracheophytes appeared, bryophytes offer unique windows into the early evolution of land plants. We review insights into the evolution of plant life cycles, in particular the elaboration of the sporophyte generation, the major lineages within bryophyte phyla, and reproductive processes that shape patterns of bryophyte evolution. Recent transcriptomic work suggests extensive overlap in gene expression in bryophyte sporophytes vs. gametophytes, but also novel patterns in the sporophyte, supporting Bower's antithetic hypothesis for origin of alternation of generations. Major lineages of liverworts, mosses, and hornworts have been resolved and general patterns of morphological evolution can now be inferred. The life cycles of bryophytes, arguably more similar to those of early embryophytes than are those in any other living plant group, provide unique insights into gametophyte mating patterns, sexual conflicts, and the efficacy and effects of spore dispersal during early land plant evolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biodiversity*
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Bryophyta / genetics
  • Bryophyta / growth & development*
  • Bryophyta / ultrastructure
  • Phylogeny
  • Population Dynamics