Documenting Local Biodiversity: More than deer at the bird feeder

Tag alder swamp, a habitat with a high diversity of plant  and invertebrate species.
Tag alder swamp, a habitat with a high diversity of plant, fungi, lichen, and invertebrate species.

Over the years I’ve kept a checklist of the plants, animals and other life forms on the land where I live. To date I have documented 341 native vascular plants (PDF File), including four Minnesota listed rare species, in the fields, woods, and wetlands. About 50 non-native species occur primarily as weeds in my gardens or as cultivated grasses and clovers in my pastures. The list of birds while short does contain 72 species so far most of which are resident in the state. If I go back and work on my phenology notes, a project for the cold winter nights, I think I could add a few more bird species. The number of other vertebrate species on the list is pretty close to expected but could grow if I find more mice, moles, and shrews (6, 1, and 2 species, respectively) or fish (just 10). The invertebrate list is still generalized but I expect to add several new aquatic invertebrate species to it in the next few months.

Springtails on water.
Springtails on water.

My list of other small plants and plant-like organisms, the mosses, liverworts, lichens, and fungi, is not very complete either. So far I have identified 31 genera of fungi and 23 to species. Of the lichens I have identified 26 genera and 30 species. There are many other lichens that I can pick out as different but at this time have no idea what genus they are in let alone species.

Cladonia Lichens and Polytrichum Moss
Cladonia Lichens and Polytrichum Moss.

Lately, I have been focusing on documenting the moss (Bryophyta) and liverwort (Hepatophyta) flora on my land. My checklist is up to 24 moss species and 20 genera and 7 liverwort species and 7 genera. A drop in the bucket when one learns that there are 358 species of mosses and over 175 species of liverworts just in Minnesota. Considering how difficult identifying these plants to species can be or even to genus I feel glad to have gotten this many. Some genera like Sphagnum are easy to distinguish from the rest of the mosses but keying a Sphagnum to species is challenging. Many of the liverworts can be even more confusing. While none of my finds have made breaking news (not yet, anyway) I still want to present them to the public. A few of the mosses and liverworts on the checklist might represent range extensions within the state. Although these range extensions are hardly earth-shaking documenting them does contribute to our general knowledge of species diversity and habitat needs and preferences of those species.

Eight species of small plants and fungi growing at the base of a black ash tree in the tag alder swamp.
Eight species of small plants, algae, and fungi growing at the base of a black ash tree in the tag alder swamp.

So, I am starting a series of posts called “Documenting Local Biodiversity”. It will be about the plants, fungi, and animals that live on my land and in other places nearby. The first ones in the series will be about two liverwort species, a group of small plants with a tremendous number of species that occur worldwide. There will also be posts on trees and shrubs, wildflowers, fish, reptiles, and amphibians, insects, spiders and other invertebrates. And, when I get some better/new camera equipment, posts on birds and mammals.

Next post: Ptilidium pulcherrimum, the most beautiful liverwort.

Bird Nest in Willows
Bird Nest in Willows


County Atlas of Minnesota Mosses. Joannes A. Janssens and The Minnesota County Biological Survey, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, State of Minnesota (May 2000).

Boreal Hepaticae, A Manual of Liverworts of Minnesota and Adjacent Regions. Rudolf M. Schuster. The American Midland Naturalist (Vol. 49, No. 2, March 1953).

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