It’s easy to miss the mosses, the ubiquitous green, silver and brown carpets that drape across nature’s surfaces, from forest to fen. It’s also easy to underestimate just how big a role these small but mighty organisms play in maintaining ecosystems and countering climate change.
A recent study in the journal Nature Geoscience looked into the contributions of mosses that grow on soil and found that they cover an estimated 9.4 million square kilometers (3.6 million square miles) of land — an area roughly the size of China.
On a global scale, soil mosses have the potential to add 6.43 billion metric tons of carbon to the soil, an amount roughly equivalent to the annual emissions of 2.8 billion passenger cars, underscoring the substantial impact of these wee plants.
The researchers found several other benefits for soil covered with mosses versus bare soils. For example, mosses cycle higher amounts of essential nutrients through the soil, contribute to faster decomposition, and reduce the number of harmful plant pathogens in the soil.