Alison Haynes

Alison Haynes

Alison Haynes: Why study moss?
PhD Candidate
University of Wollongong
New South Wales, Australia

Email –
Twitter – @alisonhaynes1
Instagram – @wild_urban_moss

Alison Haynes grew up in the Kent countryside in England, had a horsey childhood and studied law at universities in London (Kings College) and Paris (the Sorbonne). After her degree she went to Australia on a working holiday, took her first job in journalism on return to England, and continued as a journalist, editor and author after emigrating to Australia a few years later.

In 2004 she and her husband moved from inner-city Sydney into a 1927 cottage and the wide-open spaces of the Illawarra (near Wollongong). This allowed Alison to enjoy being in natural spaces, bushwalking and beach-combing. Moving out of the city also reawakened her interest in biology (a favourite subject when at school also winning the school biology prize on leaving): she was now ready for a career change and decided life was too short not to give it a go.

Alison enrolled in a science degree at the University of Wollongong and graduated with a first-class honours degree in conservation biology. Her path then took a mossy turn as she contemplated a PhD. Taxonomic study was not the main consideration; instead, her starting point was the potential for mossy biocrusts on green roofs. However, Alison felt that there was not enough known about how moss survives more generally in the urban environment. City life for plants involves changes in light, hydrology, pollution and substrate. How do these effect the biodiversity of moss? So, Alison settled on a project focusing on the ecology and physiology of urban moss.

For Alison, concepts like scale, water relations and surviving stresses became important. The fact that moss is so small with leaves just one cell thick means that it can rely on the process of diffusion to obtain water and minerals. This in turn affects where it thrives – particularly in the urban environment where it can exploit small niches like pavement cracks, dimples in road surfaces or skeletal soils. Rhizoids suffice for anchoring whereas larger plants require the vascular tissues of roots. All of these aspects are being contemplated and tested in her project.

One of the reasons Alison turned to biology as a second career was to undertake field work and experience places, she otherwise would not have the opportunity to visit. Moss, albeit small, has not disappointed on this front. Travelling for conferences has allowed her to witness the micro ‘mountains’ of biocrusts in Utah (USA), visit urban moss and night markets in Shenzhen (China), and in 2019 to see numerous dry-adapted moss species in the wild during the IAB/iMOSS conference field trip to the Parque Regional de la Cuenca Alta del Manzanares (Spain). In February 2020, moss took Alison camping in Antarctica to collect specimens from sites on the King George Island glacier retreat. The samples were returned to Australia to await analysis for C13, which will show what conditions were like as the plants grew, and possibly C14 testing for dating purposes. But intervention from COVID has put this on hold.

 ‘Why study moss?’ Alison now has a ready answer: for its rich research potential, because it’s thought-provoking philosophically, and because it leads her to places near and far.


Haynes, A, 2021, When less is more: failure to adapt to local conditions sometimes

boosts resilience, Conservation Physiology, 9, 1, coab055

Ayre, D, Haynes, A, Gregory, D, 2021, Low genetic differentiation despite

fragmentation in an endangered fire-sensitive shrub, International Journal of Plant

Science, 182, 3, 229-237

Paton-Walsh, C … Haynes, A et al, 2019, A Clean Air Plan for Sydney: An Overview

of the Special Issue on Air Quality in New South Wales. Atmosphere 10 (12), 774,


Popek, R, Haynes, A, Przybysz, A and Robinson, S, 2019, How Much Does Weather

Matter? Effects of Rain and Wind on PM Accumulation by Four Species of Australian

Native Trees, Atmosphere, 10.3390/atmos1010063

Haynes, A, 2019, Dark matters: night light stops toads in their tracks, Conservation

Physiology Volume 7, Issue 1, 2020, coz085

Haynes, A, Popek, R, Boles, M, Paton-Walsh, C and Robinson, S, 2019, Roadside Moss

Turfs in South East Australia Capture More Particulate Matter Along an Urban

Gradient than a Common Native Tree Species, Atmosphere, 10(4):224

Haynes, A, 2019, Silver moss is a rugged survivor in the city landscape, The Conversation:

Haynes, A, 2018, Approaches to Plant Evolutionary Ecology Gregory P. Cheplick

(Book review), Austral Ecology

Haynes, A 2018, Domestic Dilemma: When Cultivated Plants Lose their wild side,

Conservation Physiology, 6 10.1093/conphys/coy039

Haynes, Alison, 2017, Collected Papers of Michael E. Soulé. Early Years in Modern

Conservation Biology (Book Review), Austral Ecology DOI: 10.1111/aec.12500

Coote, A, Haynes, A, Philp, J and Ville, S, 2017, When Commerce, Science and

Leisure Collaborated: The Nineteenth-Century Global Trade Boom in Natural History

Collections, Journal of Global History 12, 3, 319-339.

Haynes, Alison, 2015, Cane toads – a tale of sugar, politics and flawed science (Book

Review), Austral Ecology 40, (8), 14-15

Conference presentations

Small plants in the (big) green city: What role for moss? Invited speaker,  Green Street, Clean Air Street, webinar, SCAN (Street-scale Greening for Cooling and Clean Air in Cities), , March 2021

From CBD to glacier edge: moss colonisation and climate change, speed talk and poster

ESA online conference 2020

Small plants, big ideas: a review of potential applications for moss-dominated biocrusts,

Speed talk, ESA conference, Launceston, November 2019

• Talk and poster, Concrete conversations: experiments with moss and microtopography on an urban gradient, SEB, Seville, July 2019.

• Poster, Of turf, trees and air quality: does moss trap more particulate matter than leaves?

IAB/iMoss, Madrid, July 2019

• Invited presenter: Moss in the metropolis, Untaming the Urban, workshop and seminar

at Fenner School of the Environment, Canberra, December 2018.

• Symposium co-convener and chair, Innovation for Conservation: Using new approaches

and emerging technology to improve wildlife and habitat protection and management,

Ecological Society of Australia conference, Brisbane, November 2018.

Alison Haynes


• Poster, Of turfs and trees: does moss trap more particulate matter than trees on urban

roadsides? Ecological Society of Australia conference, Brisbane, November 2018.

• Talk, Stress in the city: learning about plant stress in the urban living lab, Boden Research

Conference: Ecosystem Collapse and Surprises, Canberra, May 2018.

• Poster, Moss in the metropolis: experiments in micro-habitat, micro-topography and multiple

stress, Fenner Conference on the Environment: Urban Sustainability and

Conservation, Canberra, April 2018.

• Speed talk, Microhabitats in the concrete jungle: finding patterns of persistence of moss

• EcoTas – Ecological Society of Australia conference Hunter Valley, November 2017.

• Poster, Metro moss: experiments on an urban gradient. International Botanical Congress,

Shenzhen, China, 2017.

• Poster, Parking lots, pavements and pollution – a review of biocrusts’ life in the city.

Biocrust3 Conference, University of North Arizona, Moab, USA, September 2016.