R.I.P. The MossCam: 2002-2008

The Moss Cam study site when dry (top) and after rain (bottom)

September, 2023

The MossCam was one of my earliest and longest-running photo monitoring projects at the James Reserve. The idea came from an informal conversation between myself and Prof. Brent Mishler at UC Berkeley around 2000 after he visited with a group of bryophyte aficionados.

I had deployed our first bird feeder and nest box cams a few years prior. So the tools for deploying networked video cameras in the field were improving rapidly. At the same time, we were exploring the use of small portable weather stations that could wirelessly communicate data and be placed in micro-habitats to characterize microclimate variation.

Tortula princeps, the star moss, are a unique plant. They become dormant during drought and shut down their photosynthesis down to a cellular level to conserve their resources and survive for weeks and months. However, once any amount of moisture becomes available, be it fog, drizzle, or rain, they will rapidly revive, reactivating photosynthesis within seconds, greening up, and measurably absorbing carbon dioxide.

Remote sensing using a color and near-infrared camera to capture the periodicity of this transition state became possible once we extended the James Reserve wireless network and solar power grid. We also co-located a small micro-climate sensing platform to measure temperature, humidity, precipitation, and solar radiation next to the MossCam.

micro weather station located next to the MossCam

The MossCam operated daily from May 2002 until the end of May 2008. A program was written to take a set of images at noon every day, one in color and another in infrared. Continuous weather data was collected. All data was stored in an interactive web-accessible database throughout the years of the project. While our team published only one important peer-reviewed paper in the International Journal of Plant Science, the real significance of the MossCam project was much broader in its innovative use of embedded networked sensing of ecosystems. The MossCam and other significant experiments led to the much larger Center for Embedded Networked Sensing (CENS) collaboration - a $40 million National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center based at UCLA, which ran from 2002 - 2012.

Use of a Networked Digital Camera to Estimate Net CO2 Update of a Dessication-tolerant Moss

Time-lapse Video Sequence of the MossCam in True Color - one image recorded at noon per day for 6 years

Time-lapse Video Sequence of the MossCam in Near Infrared Light - one image recorded per day at noon for one year