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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

What researching bryophytes means to reviving a rainforest

A little moss can go a long way.

Dr. Ralph Riley, former professor at the University of the South Pacific.
Dr. Ralph Riley, former professor at the University of the South Pacific.

Dr. Ralph Riley, a former adjunct professor at Western and senior lecturer at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji came to Western to discuss rainforest ecology in Fiji Thursday, Oct. 1.

Riley’s presentation was a part of the Huxley Speaker Series, and focused on the research of a master’s student he worked with named Mereia Katafono. Katafono was interested in looking at what is the species richness of bryophytes—non-vascular land plants, like mosses—on the island of Fiji.

Her research was to look at what bryophyte species were growing on trees at three different elevations in Fijian rainforest and why they were there, Riley said   Bryophytes important to an ecosystem because these rootless, water-retaining organisms can survive in extreme conditions and help increase biodiversity, a vital function in a thriving ecosystem.

According to Riley, Katafono’s research was the first of its kind in Fiji.

“Mereia’s project is probably the only real ecologically based bryophyte research project that has been done there,” Riley said. “Most everything else has just been go in, grab some samples, describe them, publish and move on.”

Riley said that Katafono’s research managed to increase the amount of known bryophyte species that are located in Fiji and develop ways to protect them to help this ecosystem thrive.

“This is important because biodiversity is under a fair number of threats in Fiji,” Riley said. “It’s one of the most densely populated countries in this part of the pacific and not a lot of the land is protected from development.”

Western junior Mikaela Richardson said she left the speech with newfound knowledge about bryophytes in Fiji and how the studies they are doing help understand the biodiversity of Fiji.

Richardson also enjoyed Riley’s way of speaking to the audience.

“I thought he did a really good job. He kept it very simplified, easy to understand,” Richardson said.

Riley said he hopes that students leave with increased knowledge about what is out there and the importance of different species on how the world works.

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