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Biol Lett. 2009 Dec 23;5(6):857-60. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2009.0380. Epub 2009 Jul 29.

Long-lived sperm in the geothermal bryophyte Pohlia nutans.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Portland State University, PO Box 751, Portland, OR 97207-0751, USA.


Non-vascular plants rely on sperm to cross the distance between male and female reproductive organs for fertilization and sexual reproduction to occur. The majority of non-vascular plants have separate sexes, and thus, this distance may be a few millimetres to many metres. Because sperm need water for transport, it has been assumed that sperm lifespans are short and that this type of sexual reproduction limits the expansion of non-vascular plants in terrestrial environments. However, little data is available on the lifespan of sperm in non-vascular plants, and none is available for bryophytes, the group thought to have first colonized terrestrial habitats. Here, we documented the lifespan of sperm of Pohlia nutans, collected from a geothermal spring's area, and tested the effects of variation under environmental conditions on this lifespan. Surprisingly, 20 per cent of the sperm were still motile after 100 h, and sperm lifespan was not significantly affected by temperature variation between 22 and 60 degrees C. Lifespan was significantly affected by sperm dilution and temperatures above 75 degrees C. These results suggest the need to reconsider the importance of sperm motility in bryophyte fertilization.

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