The tropical moss genus Floribundaria Fleisch. (Meteoriaceae)


Zacharia L.K. Magombo

Project summary


This research was sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) - Missouri Botanical Garden PEET project.


(1) Dr. Robert Magill, (2) Dr. Bruce Allen, and (3) Dr. Steve Churchill (Principal investigators for the NSF-PEET project at Missouri Botanical garden)


Taxonomic revision of the tropical moss genus Floribundaria Fleisch. (Meteoriaceae).


 The moss genus Floribundaria Fleisch. belongs to the subfamily Meteorioideae of the tropical moss family Meteoriaceae, mainly a tropical group of epiphytic mosses growing extensively, mostly pendent masses from tree trunks or branches. The Meteoriaceae are concentrated in the Southern Hemisphere with few members found in the Northern Hemisphere that represent the distributional outliers of common, widespread southern hemispheric genera.

Meteoriaceous mosses hanging from tree trunks and branches (Photo by Zacharia Magombo, 1999)

Since Brotherus (1925) the Meteoriaceae have been divided into two subfamilies, Pilotricheloideae (8 genera, 77 species), and Meteorioideae (22 genera, 210 species. The Pilotricheloideae, united by smooth leaf cells, are found in Australia, Africa, tropical America and Hawaii. The Meteorioideae, united by papillose leaf cells, are broadly distributed and although they are concentrated in southern Asia, they are also found in Australia, North America, Latin America and Africa.

The phylogenetic placement and taxonomic relationships of taxa in the family Meteoriaceae has not been understood and evolutionary biology of this moss group in tropical ecosystems, therefore, has been unclear. One of the goals of the current NSF-PEET research project at Missouri Botanical garden was to investigate the phylogenetic and taxonomic relationships of taxa within the Meteoriaceae using modern research techniques employing both morphological and molecular data and my research of the genus Floribundaria is part of this current initiative.


Within the subfamily Meteorioideae the genus Floribundaria is distinguished by a combination of characters including (1) seriately arranged papillae over the cell lumen, (2) cucullate and hairy calyptrae, (3) double peristome whose exostome on the outside is striate and pale to dark brown at base but papillose and hyaline at tip, and (4) U-shaped leaf insertion. The genus Floribundaria, however, is extremely variable in most of its characters and as a result its taxa are weakly circumscribed.

There are currently 17 names of Floribundaria species in use. However, preliminary studies indicate that some of the species may not be distinct, for example F. usneoides (Broth.) Broth. in the New World may be synonymous with F. vaginans (Welwitsch & Duby) Broth. in the Old World. Circumscription of species is not clear due to great variation in morphological characters, and lack of comprehensive taxonomic treatment. Our understanding of evolutionary and biogeographic aspects of this moss group depends on comprehensive and reliable circumscription of the taxa involved.


The study has the following objectives (1) To investigate phylogenetic relationship of the genus Floribundaria to other genera in the Meteoriaceae; (2) To provide a comprehensive taxonomic treatment of the genus including generic and species circumscription, descriptions and keys to species, illustrations and distribution data base, and (3) To uncover biogeographic history of the genus Floribundaria.


The research includes (1) detailed study of character variation based on herbarium specimens and material collected from field studies, (2) cladistic analysis of morphological and molecular data to investigate phylogenetic relationships, and (3) assessment of biogeographic history based on taxonomic and phylogenetic analyses. Modern research techniques and research facilities at the Missouri Botanical Garden including the libraries, herbarium collections and TROPICOS database will be used.

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