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How Moss Can Solve Japan's Major Pollution Problem

By Tessa Love

Scientists have found a new low-cost way to monitor urban pollution and atmospheric change, and it has nothing to do with technology. No, this method grows readily right on the rocks and trees: moss. 

Moss is a natural bioindicator that responds to pollution and drought by changing shape and density or disappearing altogether. Mosses absorb water and nutrients from their immediate surroundings, which can be a good indicator of changes to ecosystems. By monitoring these changes in the moss's natural environment (or even in cultivated scenarios) scientists can ascertain the levels of pollution in the air that might cause harm to human health. 

These findings were published in the Landscape and Urban Planning journal by Dr. Yoshitaka Oishi, an associate professor at Fukui Prefectural University. The study described the effect of nitrogen pollution, air quality and drought on moss found over a 1.9-mile area in Hachioji City in northwestern Tokyo. The study showed that severe stress from drought occurred on the moss in areas with high levels of nitrogen pollution, which raised concerns for Dr. Oishi over the impact on health and biodiversity in the region.