Hurtado, F., Estébanez, B., Aragón, P., Hortal, J., Molina-Bustamante, M. & Medina, N.G. (2022) Moss establishment success is determined by the interaction between propagule size and species identity. Scientific Reports, 12, 20777. doi:10.1038/s41598-022-24354-8
Colonization of new habitat patches is a key aspect of metacommunity dynamics, particularly for sessile organisms. Mosses can establish in new patches through fragmentation, with different vegetative structures acting as propagules. Despite the importance of these propagules for successful colonization the specific aspects that favour moss colonization by vegetative propagules remain poorly understood, including the effect of propagule size. We examine the intra- and interspecific variation of establishment and colonization success in culture of propagules of different sizes in six widespread soil moss species of contrasting growth form (Dicranum scoparium, Homalothecium aureum, Hypnum cupressiforme, Ptychostomum capillare, Syntrichia ruralis and Tortella squarrosa). We obtained three different size classes of propagules from artificially fragmented vegetative material, and assessed their establishment under controlled light and temperature conditions. We characterize the size, shape, apparent viability, morphological type and size changes due to hydration states of the propagules, all of them traits with potentially significant influence in their dispersal pattern and establishment. Then we assess the effect of these traits on moss establishment, using indicators of surface establishment (number of established shoots and colonized surface) and biomass production (viable biomass) as proxies of colonization success. The establishment indicators related to colonization surface and biomass production differ among species and propagule sizes. The magnitude of the interspecific differences of all indicators of establishment success was larger at the smaller propagule size class. T. squarrosa was the most successful species, and D. scoparium showed the lowest performance. We also found interspecific differences in the hydration dynamics of the propagules. The process of establishment by vegetative fragments operates differently among moss species. Besides, differences between hydration states in propagules of some species could be part of syndromes for both dispersal and establishment. This study unveils several functional traits relevant for moss colonization, such as wet versus dry area and length of fragments, which may improve our understanding of their spatial dynamics.