Signal evolution in fly-dispersed dung mosses

Sources of Funding:

National Geographic Society, SC BRIN-EPSCOR "Odor, color and fly-mediated spore dispersal in dung mosses (Splachnaceae)"

Dung Fly


  1. The “dung mosses” (Splachnaceae) demonstrate the novel habit of using decaying animal matter (instead of moist soil, wood or rocks) as a substrate.
  2. Sporophytes of many Splachnaceae are brightly colored, strongly scented or both, presumably to attract insects (flies) to carry spores to dung, carrion or bone.
  3. Coexistence of Splachnum and Tetraplodon species is mediated by microhabitat, phenology and species-specific differences in fly guilds that disperse spores.

I have teamed up with Paul Marino (Memorial University, Newfoundland (left)) and Bernard Goffinet (Univ. of Connecticut (right)) to ask the following questions:



  1. Do sporophyte odors mimic those of the preferred substrate for gametophytes of the same species? For example, do carrion-using Tetraplodon species smell of dimethyl disulfide?
  2. How do different moss taxa utilize visual vs. olfactory cues to attract flies?
  3. How many times did entomophily evolve in the Splachnaceae, and from what kind of ancestral condition?
  4. Do species of Splachnum and Tetraplodon that occur across large land masses vary in their sporophyte odors and dispersal strategies?
  5. Do Southern Hemisphere Taylorias diverge in dispersal phenotype between Australasian and Austral American taxa?