Cryo-scanning electron microscopy shows that nascent intercellular spaces (ICSs) in bryophytes are liquid-filled, whereas these are gas-filled from the outset in tracheophytes except in the gametophytes of Lycopodiales.
ICSs are absent in moss gametophytes and remain liquid-filled in hornwort gametophytes and in both generations in liverworts. Liquid is replaced by gas following stomatal opening in hornworts and is ubiquitous in moss sporophytes even in astomate taxa.
New data on moss water relations and sporophyte weights indicate that the latter are homiohydric while X-ray microanalysis reveals an absence of potassium pumps in the stomatal apparatus.
The distribution of ICSs in bryophytes is strongly indicative of very ancient multiple origins. Inherent in this scenario is either the dual or triple evolution of stomata. The absence, in mosses, of any relationship between increases in sporophyte biomass and stomata numbers and absences, suggests that CO2 entry through the stomata, possible only after fluid replacement by gas in the ICSs, makes but a minor contribution to sporophyte nutrition. Save for a single claim of active regulation of aperture dimensions in mosses, all other functional and structural data point to the sporophyte desiccation, leading to spore discharge, as the primeval role of the stomatal apparatus.
This article is part of a discussion meeting issue ‘The Rhynie cherts: our earliest terrestrial ecosystem revisited’.