, Volume 575, Issue 1, pp 95–107 | Cite as

Phosphatase activities of the aquatic moss Warnstorfia fluitans (Hedw.) Loeske from an acidic stream in North-East England

  • N. T. W. Ellwood
  • B. A. Whitton
Primary Research Paper


A study was made of the aquatic environment, tissue nutrient composition and surface phosphatase activities of the aquatic moss Warnstorfia fluitans in Brandon Pithouse Stream, a small acidic stream in N-E England. The water, which originates from an underground spring, had been pH 2.6 for at least 30 years, but about 3.9 during the present study. The moss was by far the most abundant phototroph during all this period. Seasonal changes in aqueous nitrogen and phosphorus fractions were measured over a 2-year period near the source. Most of the filtrable N and P were at times organic, but the very high N:P ratio (even if organic N is excluded) suggests that only organic phosphate is likely to be important for the moss. There was a high peak in organic phosphate in late spring in both study years. Surface phosphomonoesterase (PMEase) and phosphodiesterase (PDEase) activities were highly correlated in the field and in axenic culture, though there were some differences in response to environmental factors. Axenic material showed higher PMEase and PDEase activities when grown with organic P than with inorganic P. Although the data suggest that internal P content is an important factor influencing phosphatase activities, PDEase activity was especially marked when the moss was grown with the diester, DNA, as P source, indicating that at least one of its surface phosphatases can also respond directly to the environment.


Moss Warnstorfia Phosphatase Phosphomonoesterase Phosphodiesterase Acidic stream 



bis-para-nitrophenyl phosphate


3-dimethylglutaric acid


filtrable organic nitrogen


filtrable organic phosphorus


filtrable reactive phosphorus


N-(2-hydroxyethyl)-piperazine-N′-2-ethanesulfonic acid




methylumbelliferyl phosphate




para-nitrophenyl phosphate






inorganic phosphate-P


total inorganic nitrogen


total nitrogen


total phosphorus



N.T.W.E. was supported by a studentship from the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The authors are also most grateful to H.J. Banks Ltd for other financial support and Mr C. Harle for access to the site.


  1. Bates, J. W., 1994. Responses of the mosses Brachythecium rutabulum and Pseudoscleropodium purum to a mineral nutrient pulse. Functional Ecology 8: 686–692.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bates, J. W., 2000. Mineral nutrition, substratum ecology, and pollution. In Shaw A. J. & B. Goffinet (eds), Bryophyte Biology. Cambridge University Press, UK: 248–311.Google Scholar
  3. Brock, T. D., 1978. The habitats. In Brock T. D. (eds), Thermophilic Microorganisms and Life at High Temperatures. Springer-Verlag, New York, 12–38.Google Scholar
  4. Brown, D. H., 1984. Uptake of mineral elements and their use in pollution monitoring. In Dyer A. F. & J. G. Duckett (eds), The Experiment Biology of Bryophytes. Academic Press, London: 229–255.Google Scholar
  5. Christmas, M. & B. A. Whitton, 1998a. Phosphorus and aquatic bryophytes in the Swale–Ouse river system, north-east England. 1. Relationship between ambient phosphorus, internal N:P ratio and surface phosphatase activity. Science of the Total Environment 210/211: 389–399.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Christmas, M. & B. A. Whitton, 1998b. Phosphorus and aquatic bryophytes in the Swale–Ouse river system, north-east England. 2. Phosphomonoesterase and phosphodiesterase activities of Fontinalis antipyretica. Science of the Total Environment 210/211: 401–409.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chu, S. P., 1942. The influence of the mineral composition of the media on the growth of planktonic algae. 1. Methods and culture media. Journal of Ecology 30: 284–325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Eckstein, R. L. & P. S. Karlsson, 1999. Recycling of nitrogen among segments of Hylocomium splendens as compared with Polytrichum commune: implications for clonal integration in an ectohydric bryophyte. Oikos 86: 87–96.Google Scholar
  9. Ellwood, N. T. W., 2002. Factors Influencing Phosphatase Activities of Mosses in Upland Streams. Ph.D. Thesis. University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK.Google Scholar
  10. Ellwood, N. T. W., S. M. Haile & B. A. Whitton, 2002. Surface phosphatase activity of the moss Warnstorfia fluitans as an indicator of the nutrient status of an acidic stream. Verhandlung Internationale Vereinigung Limnologie 28: 620–623.Google Scholar
  11. Fedde, K. N. & M. P. Whyte, 1990. Alkaline phosphatase (tissue-non specific isoenzyme) is a phosphoethanolamine and pyridoxal-5′phosphate ectophosphatase: normal and hypophosphatasia fibroblast study. American Journal of Human Genetics 47: 767–775.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Garcia-Alvaro, M. A., J. Martinez-Abaigar, E. Nuñez–Olivera & N. Beaucourt, 2000. Element concentrations and enrichment ratios in the aquatic moss Rhynchostegium riparioides along the River Iregua (La Rioja, Northern Spain). Bryologist 103: 518–533.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gibson, M. T. & B. A. Whitton, 1987. Hairs, phosphatase activity and environmental chemistry in Stigeoclonium, Chaetophora and Draparnaldia (Chaetophorales). British phycological Journal 22: 11–22.Google Scholar
  14. Gimeno, C., F. Puche & B. A. Whitton, 1998. Effect of pH on shoots and protonema of Warnstorfia fluitans (Hedw.) Loeske. Boletin Sociedad Español Briologia 13: 13–17.Google Scholar
  15. Glime, J. M. & D. H. Vitt, 1984. The physiological adaptations of aquatic musci. Lindbergia 10: 41–52.Google Scholar
  16. Grainger, S. L. J., A. Peat, D. N. Tiwari & B. A. Whitton, 1989. Phosphomonoesterase activity of the cyanobacterium (blue-green alga) Calothrix parietina. Microbios 59: 7–17.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Gross, W., 2001. Ecophysiology of algae living in highly acidic environments. Hydrobiologia 433: 173–180.Google Scholar
  18. Hargreaves, J. W., E. J. H. Lloyd & B. A. Whitton, 1975. Chemistry and vegetation of highly acidic streams. Freshwater Biology 5: 563–576.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hargreaves, J. W. & B. A. Whitton, 1976. Effect of pH on growth of acid stream algae. British Phycological Journal 11: 215–223.Google Scholar
  20. Houba V., W. van Vark, I. Walinga & J.J. van der Lee, 1989. Plant Analysis Procedures (Part 7, Chapter 2.2). Department of Soil Science and Plant Analysis. Wageningen, The Netherlands.Google Scholar
  21. Lambert, D. & W. Maher, 1994. An evaluation of the efficiency of the alkaline persulphate digestion method for the determination of total phosphorus in turbid waters. Water Research 29: 7–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Langer, C. L. & P. F. Hendrix, 1982. Evaluation of a persulphate digestion method for particulate nitrogen and phosphorus. Water Research 16: 1451–1454.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Livingstone, D. & B. A. Whitton, 1984. Water chemistry and phosphatase activity of the blue-green alga Rivularia in Upper Teesdale streams. Journal of Ecology 72: 405–421.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Novozamsky, I., V. J. G. Houba, R. van Eck & W. van Vark, 1983. A novel digestion technique for multi-element analysis. Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis 14: 239–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Press, M. C. & J. A. Lee, 1983. Acid phosphatase activity in Sphagnum species in relation to phosphate nutrition. New Phytologist 93: 567–573.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Proctor MCF. 2000. Physiological ecology. In Shaw A. J. & B. Goffinet (eds), Bryophyte Biology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 225–247.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Skalar, 1995. The Sanplus Segmented Flow analyser: Soil and Plant Analysis. Instruction Manual: Publ. No. 0102003. Skalar Analytical, Breda, The Netherlands.Google Scholar
  28. Steinman, A. D., 1994. The influence of phosphorus enrichment on lotic bryophytes. Freshwater Biology 31: 53–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Steinman, A. D. & H. L. Boston, 1993. The ecological role of aquatic bryophytes in a woodland stream. Journal of the North American Benthological Society 12: 17–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Turner, B. L., R. Baxter, N. T. W. Ellwood & B. A. Whitton, 2001. Characterization of the phosphatase activities of mosses in relation to their environment. Plant Cell and Environment 24: 1165–1176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Turner, B. L., R. Baxter, N. T. W. Ellwood & B. A. Whitton, 2003. Seasonal phosphatase activities of mosses from Upper Teesdale, northern England. Journal of Bryology 25: 203–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Walinga, I., W. van Vark, V. J. G. Houba & L. L. van der Lee, 1989. Plant Analysis Procedures, Part 7. Department of Soil Science and Plant Nutrition, Wageningen Agricultural University, The Netherlands, 138–141 pp.Google Scholar
  33. Wells, J. M. & D. H. Brown, 1996. Mineral nutrient recycling within shoots of the moss Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus in relation to growth. Journal of Bryology 19: 1–17.Google Scholar
  34. Whitton, B. A., E. Clegg, M., Christmas, J. J. Gemmell & P.J. Robinson, 2002 Development of Phosphastase Assay for Monitroing Nutrients in Rivers – Methodology Manual for Measurement of Phosphatase Activity in Mosses and Green Algae. Environment Agency of England and Wales STRE106-E-P 53 pp. (Distributed by WRc, Frankland Road, Swindon, Wilts SN5 8YF, UK).Google Scholar
  35. Whitton, B. A., A. M. Al-Shehri, N. T. W. Ellwood & B. L. Turner, 2005. Ecological aspects of phosphatase activity in cyanobacteria, eukaryotic algae and bryophytes. In Turner B. L., E. Frossard & D. S. Baldwin, (eds), Organic Phosphorus in the Environment. CAB International, Wallingford, UK: 205–241.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological and Biomedical SciencesUniversity of DurhamDurhamUK
  2. 2.Department of Chemical and Process EngineeringUniversity of NewcastleNewcastle-upon-TyneUK
  3. 3.Dipartimenti di Scienze GeologicheUniversita Roma TreRomaItaly

Personalised recommendations