人物篇 || 访资深苔藓学家张力
【Speaker Background Introduction】Zhang Li, born in March of 1967, received his PhD degree from the University of Hong Kong in 2001. Presently Zhang Li serves as Deputy Director of Fairy Lake Botanical Garden, Shenzhen & Chinese Academy of Sciences, Chair of the Bryological Committee, Botanical Society of China, and the Rural Revitalization Consultant of Maoyang Town, Jingning County of Zhejiang Province. Zhang Li has been engaging in the investigation, research and popular science education of bryophytes over three decades. Work with his team, Zhang Li has published more than 10 books, approximately 100 research papers and popular science articles. The representatives include "Bryophyte Flora of Macao", "Bryophyte Flora of Guangdong", "Higher Plants of China in Colour, Vol. 1. Bryophytes", "The Miniature Angels in the Plant Kingdom, an Introduction to Bryophytes", "The Magic and Enchantment of Bryophytes", and so on. Zhang Li received the prestigious award of the "Top 10 Guangdong Science Communication Talents" in 2017.
Host: Hello, everyone! Welcome to the big network talk show "Popular Eco-People", I am the host Guo Zhifu. Today our guest is Dr. Zhang Li, an expert of bryology. What kind of story will he tell us? Let's give a round applause and welcome Dr. Zhang.
Zhang Li: Hello, everyone! It’s my great pleasure to be with you all.
Host: Welcome Dr. Zhang to our talk show “Popular Eco-People.” As we knew, bryophytes is a group of plants that people generally pay less attention to, especially in big cities. Dr. Zhang, we were wondering by what kind of coincidence did you start your research on bryophytes?
Zhang Li: My hometown is located in the mountainous area of southwest Guizhou Province. When I was in childhood, I often went up to the mountain to pick mushrooms in summer. There are many tasty mushrooms in the mountain, including termite mushrooms (Termitornyces). However, from time to time I heard that some villagers got poisoned due to accidentally eat mushrooms, which made me even more curious about mushrooms.
When I graduated from University in 1987, I wanted to apply for postgraduate study of mushrooms. Fortunately, I passed both the written exam and the interview. But my supervisor asked me if I would like to shift to study bryophytes because the quota of studying mushrooms was full already. In fact, I barely knew bryophytes as most people at that time. And my knowledge about bryophytes is just the small and slippery things on the roadside, which I have never paid much attention to them. Honestly, I am not interested in. But the ideals are always defeated by reality. In those days, the chance of getting admitted to be a master student was few and far between. No matter what, I should seize this chance and start my study journey regardless of what to do in the future, therefore I agreed to study bryophytes. Although I was a little reluctant at beginning, I did not expect to deal with it all my life. Gradually as time passed, bryophytes became an important part of my life, and I no longer thought about studying mushrooms anymore. In addition, though I failed to study mushrooms as a profession, I am still quite interested in mushrooms and it has become one of my hobbies.
Host: Would you please give us a brief introduction about bryophytes?
Zhang Li: Bryophytes is the common name of three categories of small plants: liverworts, mosses, and hornworts. There are approximately 21,000 species of bryophytes in the world, which is the second largest group after angiosperms. They are usually small in size and simple in structure, and most of their height is ranging from several millimeters to several centimeters. They are also unable to blossom or bear fruits, and do not have vascular bundles in their bodies.
The direct economic use of bryophytes is not great, but it plays important roles in ecological functions. In the northern temperate forests as well as swamps and alpine ecosystems, bryophytes play an extremely crucial role in maintaining water balance, reducing soil erosion, sequestering carbon (mainly carbon dioxide and methane) and slowing down global warming. Besides, they are the pioneer plants in barren land, the habitat and food source for many small invertebrates and insects, and even one of the food sources of reindeer in winter. Because their leaves are mostly a layer of cell thick and lack of cuticle protection on the surface, they are more sensitive to pollutants in the air or water than those of vascular plants. And that is why they are often used as indicator plants for environmental pollution.
In North America and Europe, peat formed from Sphagnum is often used as a raw material for power plants and is the most significant economic use of bryophytes.
Only a handful of bryophytes, about 60 species, in China have been reported to be used as herbs in the folk. In some of the universities and research institutions in and abroad, some bryophytes are used as model plants for molecular biology, genomics, and developmental biology research. The most commonly used is Physcomitrella patens.
Since entering the new century, the application of bryophytes in gardening and horticulture has been increasingly favored. They are often used as coating materials for long-distance transportation of plants and substrates for cultivating precious ornamental plants, such as orchids. Apart from that, bryophyte gardening has gradually become a high-end fashion, ranging from bryophyte bottles, bonsai, flower arts, vertical walls to three-dimensional landscape. The direct consequence is that the market demand for bryophytes has soared, especially to Sphagnum and Leucobryum.
Host: During the period from 1997 to 2001, when you were a PhD student at the University of Hong Kong, the focus of your research was the diversity of bryophytes in Hong Kong. What did you do?
Zhang LI: From 1997 to 2001, I studied as a Ph.D. student at the University of Hong Kong. Considering my previous background, my supervisor, Dr. Richard Corlett, arranged me to conduct the study on the diversity of bryophytes in Hong Kong. Generally speaking, most people think that Hong Kong is a small place and a particularly urbanized metropolitan city. However, more than 40% of Hong Kong’s land area were classified into country parks, which are similar to the nature reserves of mainland under strict protection. In addition, Hong Kong enjoys complex topography and landforms, as well as plentiful rainfall and heat condition, the ecology in some remote places is still great. Therefore, the overall diversity is still extremely high.
In the four years of my doctoral study, I conducted in-depth investigations and researches on representative localities and habitats across Hong Kong, and collected more than 3,000 specimens. In addition, I studied many significant historical specimens deposited in the Herbaria of Harvard University in the United States and the Natural History Museum in Britain.
Why are these specimens so important and worth studying? They are the specimens collected in Hong Kong during 1841 to 1855 by some British explorers and the Americans in the “North Pacific Exploring and Surveying Expedition”, which are also the earliest specimens in Hong Kong. If you have not studied them, it is hard to come to the conclusion that we have thoroughly studied Hong Kong’s bryophytes.
Therefore, I spent a full four years to study the bryophytes in Hong Kong, and more than 360 species of bryophytes were confirmed. Based on the research, I published a book and several relevant academic papers. From my opinion, the significance of this work is that we have figured out the whole image of the bryophytes in Hong Kong during that period (1997-2001). If in the future, like decades or hundreds of years later, someone wants to continue the research, these data could be important reference to compare and understand the relevant changes.
Host: In the diverse plant kingdom, bryophytes are often the inconspicuous organisms. However, Fairy Lake Botanical Garden has established the first domestic bryophyte nursery in 2009. What do you think this means for China’s ecological and environmental research?
Zhang LI: In the academic institutions in China, bryology is not prevalent, which is a small subject. The conservation and landscape display of bryophytes are basically lacking.
In 2009, Fairy Lake Botanical Garden established the first bryophyte nursery, with the purpose of conserving the bryophytes from different places as well as providing materials for scientific research, popular science, and horticulture. The conserved species generally come from the following three categories:
1) species from vulnerable habitats;
2) species of phylogenetically important, rare and endangered species;
3) Species with gardening, science popularization or application prospects.
So far, about 90 species have been conserved ex-situ, including Leucobryum browringii, Rhodobryum giganteum, Pyrrhobryum spiniforme and other species. The main nursery venue is the Moss Shady House at the Conservation Center. There are two additional small display areas in the Shade Garden and Youxi Valley for tourism and science education purposes respectively.
Host: Shenzhen's nature education is at the forefront of the country, so what kind of bryophyte nature education has been carried out in the Fairy Lake Botanical Garden?
Zhang LI: Fairy Lake Botanical Garden is a popular destination for the general public locally. There are many experts, themed gardens, exhibition halls, laboratories and library in the garden. We organize various science education activities on a regular or irregular basis to meet the needs of the public and young people.
Fairy Lake Botanical Garden is also an education base for local universities and colleges of Guangzhou and Hong Kong, including Hong Kong Baptist University, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Sun Yat-sen University, South China Agricultural University, Shenzhen University, Shenzhen High School, and Shenzhen Liannan Primary School. The garden has also been awarded titles, such as "National Youth Science and Technology Education Base", "National Science Education Base", "Guangdong Province Science Education Base", and "Shenzhen Top Ten Science Popularization Base".
As for the bryophyte science education in Fairy Lake, we have started formally since 2006. The start is a joint project with the Civic and Municipal Affairs Bureau of Macao Special Administrative Region (presently as the Municipal Affairs Bureau) which focused on the bryophyte diversity of Macao. The purposes included the inventory of Macao’s bryophytes and compilation of the bryophyte flora. During the course of study, we considered it is better that we not only focus on pure research but also make some chances for the general public to know bryophytes.
As the consequence, we held a public exhibition in December 2007, and made the window opened. Over the years, we have made eight public exhibitions in Macao, Shenzhen, Beijing, Shanghai, and Hangzhou. We have also published some popular science books, established bryophyte-related science courses in the botanical garden, published many popular science articles on various print media, taken interviews, and assisted in some TV programs. We are also active on the new media recently.
Host: In December 2020, you served as the rural revitalization consultant for Maoyang Town, Jingning County of Zhejiang Province. How do you think of ecological protection and rural revitalization can be organically combined?
Zhang Li: I am very proud that my professional knowledge could also contribute to rural revitalization. I mainly provide some professional advice, including suggestions on the selection of suitable bryophyte species and the creation of suitable growth conditions, and also how to add education content. In the past March, our botanical garden also signed an agreement with Maoyang Town to build a nature education base jointly in Maoyang Town.
At present, there is an increasing demand for bryophytes in the horticulture market, and bryophyte planting can be regarded as a sunrise industry due to the fact that it cannot last long if it solely rely on plucking them from the wild. In terms of bryophyte planting, Maoyang is the only town in China. The climate there are superior, and there are many native bryophytes, where is quite suitable for bryophyte planting. The local government keenly grasped this direction, and with the technical support from Lishui Runsheng Bryophyta Co. Ltd., a couple of species which have application prospects and are suitable for the local condition were selected. Following standardized regulations, large-scale planting of bryophytes has started almost two years ago. It can not only increase income for local villagers, but also expand production space for the company to achieve a win-win result. In order to achieve greater and longer-term economic and social benefits, the bryophyte industry needs to develop comprehensively, not only just planting, but also science popularization, tourism and ecological protection.
Host: Do you have any other environmental stories, experiences, or ideas that you would like to share with us?
Zhang Li: Since 2017, I have shared my experiences in bryophyte science popularization by myself and the team I led in several lectures, including on the “Yixi” platform, Hong Kong, Xishuangbanna, Qiqihar, Shenzhen, and other places.
As a whole, the science popularization of bryophytes has been carried out less and received less attention, not only domestically but also abroad. I think we have made some achievements, mainly related to the following aspects:
1) Based on our own research, that is, first-hand (original) material and information. Second-hand material and information now comes too easily, from websites, and their contents are sometimes unreliable, and there are copyright concerns;
2) Be passionate. If you do not like it, it is hard to think about how much you can put into it and how much you can achieve.
3) Be creative. Because the object of our science popularization is bryophytes, which is quite small, not easy to observe, so we must be creative to overcome this difficulty. For example, we used models, enlarged photos and exquisite paintings.
4) High positioning. The popular science books we have published are basically bilingual version in Chinese and English. As mentioned earlier, resources of bryophyte education is not only scarce in China, but also in various parts of the world. Our books in bilingual version can be used internationally. It is why some of our publications were welcome abroad, to some extent, which is related to this.
5) Approaches should be diverse. Nowadays, with the development of information technology, there are many ways for people to access diverse information. Therefore, it is necessary to take various methods and ways, including exhibitions, traditional media and new media. Only by combining them, it is possible to obtain a wider coverage.
6) A good team.
Host: “Popular Ecology” has always dreams to share the stories or experiences by eco-environmentalists all over the world with more people. To promote the better ecological civilization, would you have any message that you would like address for “Popular Ecology”?
Zhang Li: I am looking forward to "popular ecology" becoming a bridge between professionals and the general public, not only for professionals but also for the public!