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					Janine Erica P. Dayao                                                                 2005-63761

Biogeography                                                             Professor Elena Ragrario


           Synthesis Paper: On South East Asian Bryophytes by Dr. Benito Tan (NUS)

       Dr. Benito “Benny” Tan is a world-renowned bryologist. He is the fourth recipient and

the first man in Asia to receive the “Richard Spruce Award”, a merit given to outstanding

scientist in the field of Bryology which is the science of moss, liverworts and ferns. Currently, he

is the keeper of the Herbarium and the Library at the Singapore Botanical Gardens. Aside from

Bryology, he is also an authority in the field of Pteridology which is the study of ferns. Dr. Benito

Tan’s credibility endowed him with many opportunities and positions in his scientific field. He

was elected as the Vice President of the International Association of Bryologists for six years

form 2005-2011. He is also in-charge of monitoring the world’s most endangered mosses as a

committee member of the IUCN-LAB Bryophyte Species Commodity. His accomplishments

include 250 publications on bryophyte taxonomy, systematics, ecology, biogeography and

conservation. Right now, he is said to be revising the family Sematophyllaceae and

Hookeriaceae for Southeast Asia and East Asia.

       Dr. Benito Tan, together with Dr. M Ignatov, have undertaken remarkable strides in

coming up with the public database listing of the moss database in East Asia as part of the

Raffles Museum Biodiversity Research (RMBR) program. The database was constructed by

putting together recent moss checklists for China (Redfearn et al., 1996, Journ. Hattori Bot. Lab.

79: 163-357) and for Indochina (Tan and Iwatsuki, 1993, Journ. Hattori Bot. Lab. 74: 325-405).
According to Dr. Benito Tan, East Asia is an old and vast continent. Its region extends from

China, Mongolia, Japan and Indochina covering even the highest summit down to the lowest

point on this planet. The moss diversity in this area is said to be “high and diverse” due to the

topography, altitudinal differences and varying climates present in this region; the climatic

zones covering East Asia ranges from arctic to the tropic. According to the proponents, the goal

of this online database is to offer updated information on the accepted names of mosses, their

respective family classification, economic importance and their ecological roles. The East Asia

database is composed of more than 2,000 species. Such number represents approximately 20%

of the total moss diversity of the world. Some of the species included can also be found in the

Malesian region moss database. The Malesian database, on the other hand, was started by Dr.

Benito Tan when he was still a Research Associate at the Farlow Herbarium at Harvard

University. This Malesian region is a floristic area across tropical Asia comprising Peninsular

Malaya to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. It is counted as one of the three most

important rain forest reservoirs in the tropics. The moss population in this database reaches

1770 in 330 genera. The Malesian region is divided by the Wallace line into three sub-regions:

eastern Malesia which is composed of Moluccas and New Guinea, western Malesia comprising

Sumatra, Borneo and the Philippines and southern Malesia including Java.

       Furthermore, Dr. Benito Tan was also one of the compilers of The 2000 IUCN list World

Red List of Bryophytes. In its current status, this database has 92 species which provides

information on which bryophyte species are threatened with extinction. In selecting the species

to be included in the list, the species (bryophyte) must be threatened in a global scale. The

species (bryophyte) must be in a threatened habitat. And it must exist in a narrow distribution
range. Some of the bryophytes included in the list are Bryoxiphium madeirense, Distichophyllum

carinatum, Donrichardsia macroneuron and many more. Furthermore, Dr. Tan in collaboration

with Dr. Zen Iwatsuki identified eight hot spot of high moss diversity in the region of East Asia.

They are (1) The Altai State Reseve in Russia and the Lake Kanasi Reserve in Xinjiang Province,

China, (2) Fanjing Mountain Nature Reserve, Guizhou Province, China, (3) West Tianmu

Mountain Nature Reserve, Zhejiang Province, China, (4)Yakushima Island Protected Area, Japan,

(5) Mt. Amuyaw Forest Reserve, Luzon Island, the Philippines, (6) Mt. Kinabalu Nature Park,

Sabah State, Malaysia, (7) Gunung Rinjani Nature Reserve, Lombok Island, Indonesia, and (8)

Mt. Wilhelm Forest Reserve, Simbu Province, Papua New Guinea.

       In Singapore today, aquarium hobbyists have developed an interest in growing and

cultivating mosses in their aquariums and fish tanks. The fervor and passion can be best seen in

the rise in moss sales in aquarium shops. The emergence of this trend exposed to the public the

long-held suspicions to the true identity of Java moss. For many years, aquarium hobbyists have

been baffled by the true identity of java moss. In fact, survey shows that it has been incorrectly

named. A lot of mosses within the same genus have been wrongly identified as java moss. A

study by Dr. Tan and Loh Kwek Leong and Gan Cheong Weei shed light to the misinformation.

According to the proponents, one cause of this problem, aside from the misidentification of

plant shops, stems from growing mosses above water. When mosses are cultivated emersed

(above water) their leaves change morphologically in terms of shape and overall form

compared to when they are grown submerged in water. This Java moss was named by

Professor Zen Iwatsuki at the Hattori Botanical Laboratory in Japan as a species of Taxiphyllum

or T. barbieri. In identifying it, he compared it to the specimen of Taxiphyllum barbieri from
Vietnam. But because no spore structures were available, the specimen named was accepted

with reservation. Despite the given correct identification, java moss was persistently wrongly

named in a number of books as Vesicularia dubyana. Moreover, the recent trading of hobbyists

gave java moss another name which is Fontinalis antipyretica or commonly “willow moss”.

       According to Dr. Tan et al., Java moss has a long primary stem and somewhat distantly

arranged long and short branches as a characteristic pattern. The leaves are flattened and are

arranged in two sides of the stem and branches. The shape of the leaf is oval-oblong with a

short apex and with two clearly developed short costae and with narrowly oblong leaf cells.

This leaf cell areolation together with the primordial leaf shape and its stem anatomy

distinguishes the genus Taxiphyllum (correct name of java moss) from the genus Vesicularia.

The java moss’ popularity in fish tanks is attributed to its capacity to provide a good hiding

place for fishes. The fronds of this moss are the fishes’ fave place to lay their eggs. In addition,

the moss is also not difficult to grow and its maintenance in the fish tank does not require much

compared to other moss species. In fact, it can grow even when left floating, in low light and in

a temperature of 28-30 degrees Celsius. Such aforementioned conditions would discourage

healthy growth among other moss species. Usually in aquarium breeding tanks, the java moss

is usually seen tied to a rock or a drift wood.

       Furthermore, Dr. Tan said that a number of mosses have been introduced and currently

storming the aquarium shops in Singapore today. These mosses are identified to be Vesicularia

montagei a.k.a “Christmas moss” which is widespread in the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Himalayas,

China to Malaysia and Singapore. The Christmas moss has a characteristic pinnately to
subpinnately branching habit. The leaves are nearly round to broadly oval with a short acute

apex. Its leaf cells are described as wide and short in outline. The Vesicularia reticulate or the

“Erect moss” is newly introduced and it is also gaining popularity to the hobbyists. This moss is

described as having oval to lanceolate leaves with a long and stout acuminate apex. The name

of the moss is derived from its upward habit or appearance when grown submersed in water

Moreover, the christened Singapore moss or the true Vesicularia dubyana is also seen in

aquariums and has an appearance similar to that of the Christmas moss. It is seen in shades of

trees and in the side of the stream. It has a pinnate branching. The leaves have a variable shape

with a short acuminate leaf apex. Lastly, the Taiwan moss which scientifically resembles and,

hence, called as Taxiphyllum alterans is the most recent member in this collection. It is

expensive and very sought-after in shops nowadays. It is described as having a lanceolate with

two well marked costae and an acuminate apex. It has a soft texture unlike the Christmas moss

and looks so fragile and delicate when grown.

       The bryophyte industry in East Asia has taken a huge stride now that the mosses are in

vogue and used in aquarium and fish tanks. Truly this is one of the many ways by which

bryophytes can be appreciated for what it is in a regional and, in no time, in a global a scale

regardless of being an inconspicuous species in nature.