Bryomonitoring Canada

Who we are

We’re a group of scientists from across Canada who have experience with bryology, air quality monitoring, and citizen science initiatives.  Our interest in moss as a tool for biomonitoring brings us together to undertake the Canadian Bryomonitoring Survey despite our different backgrounds!

Julian Aherne, Ph.D

School of the Environment
Trent University

Karen Golinski, Ph.D

Collections Curator,
Bryophytes, Lichens & Fungi
University of British Columbia

Nicole Fenton, Ph.D

Institut de recherche sur les forêts     Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue

Mélanie Jean, Ph.D

Département de Biologie
Université de Moncton

Jean-Philippe Bellenger, Ph.D

Centre SÉVE
Chemistry department
Université de Sherbrooke

Phaedra Cowden, Ph.D candidate

Department of Soil Science
University of Saskatchewan

Tanner Liang, M.Sc

Graduate researcher
Trent University

Kayla Wilkins, M.Sc.

Graduate researcher
Trent University

H. Cathcart, M.Sc.

Graduate researcher
Trent University


in a nutshell

Bryomonitoring is a portmanteau of “bryophyte” and “biomonitoring”.  Mosses belong to the bryophyte family, which also includes liverworts and hornworts, and have been used as tools to monitor changes in ecosystems.  The Canadian bryomonitoring project uses mosses to monitor atmospheric deposition, because mosses have no roots and gain their nutrients directly from the atmosphere.

Canada represents a challenging landscape for monitoring atmospheric deposition because it is so large and many regions are difficult to access.  Since moss is abundant across the country, it is a great monitoring tool to help us understand atmospheric deposition, but we need volunteers like you to help collect samples!



The ICP Vegetation protocol

Bryomonitoring has been used successfully for years in Europe to monitor deposition of nutrients and heavy metals.  Our Canadian initiative was inspired by  ICP Vegetation, to which over 50 countries contribute data.  We hope to add Canada to the list of countries participating in the ICP Vegetation moss biomonitoring survey.

As per the ICP Vegetation protocol, we are focusing on two species used for bryomonitoring and found throughout Canada and Europe: Hylocomium splendens (stair-step moss) and Pleurozium schreberi (red-stemmed feather moss).  From the tissues of these two mosses, we can determine the amount of heavy metals and nutrients that have fallen from the atmosphere over the last 2-3 years.


Harnessing the power of interested minds

Community science is research that is conducted by amateur scientists (but scientists are welcome too!) in collaboration with professional scientists/researchers to better understand the natural world. It means that anyone can take part in research that is important to local communities and the world at large.

This project is open to the public who have an interest in biomonitoring, air quality, moss identification, or those who just want to contribute to scientific research. By using the community science method, we attempt to open up science to the general public and to foster better relationships between citizens (hobbyists, students, weekend warriors, general members of the public) and scientists.

We thank those community science participants as without them, we would not be able to cover a large country like Canada.

Air quality in Canada

Heavy metal pollution enters the atmosphere from human activities such as industry, power production, and transportation.  Heavy metals (such as mercury) can build in up ecosystems over time and present health hazards to wildlife and people.

Other air pollutants include nutrients such as nitrogen, which can be elevated due to human activities such as livestock farming and fertilising crops.  The effects of elevated nitrogen deposition (called eutrophication) in the environment can include algae blooms in water bodies, changes to plant communities including reduced biodiversity, and acidification.

Monitoring how much heavy metal and nutrient pollution is being deposited on Canadian ecosystems is vital to protecting our health and the health of our ecosystems.

About the project

The Canadian Bryomonitoring Survey 2021-2022 has three main phases:

1: Field sampling

To get a good geographic representation of air quality in Canada, we’re hoping to get samples from across the country.  We chose  the National Topographic System (NTS) 250k map to divide the country into grids, and are hoping to get 1-5 samples within each grid.  The NTS grid sizes vary based on their location within Canada, but are approximately 100 km by 150 km.  We suggest selecting sampling sites about 20 km from each other to get the best spatial representation.

Spring to fall is the ideal sampling time for moss in most of Canada.  The ICP Vegetation data submission is for sample years 2020 to 2022, so we are hoping to cover as much of the country as we can within those years.


2: Laboratory analysis

At the Trent School of the Environment in Peterborough, Ontario, we analyse the moss for concentrations of heavy metals: arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, iron, lead, mercury, nickel, vanadium, zinc, aluminium and antimony.  Analysis will be carried out using inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) at the Water Quality Centre at Trent University.

3: Results & publications

Community science is a public effort, and therefore our results and any publications will be made available here, for everyone to access.  Stay tuned or join the mailing list to find out when data gets posted.

More questions?

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