Fern Ecology

TitleFern Ecology
Publication TypeBook
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsMehltreter, K, Walker, LA, Sharpe, JM
PublisherCambridge University Press
Accession NumberLUQ.976
Keywordsferns population dynamics

This comprehensive book of more than 400 pages is divided into ten chapters. The first chapter sets the scene, describing the increasing number of publications on fern ecology and showing a departure from an earlier tendency to concentrate more on seed plants. There is a brief explanation of the current phylogeny of vascular plants showing the lineage of lycophytes, seed plants and ferns. The position of what used to be called ‘fern allies’ is indicated, as they are now included in both ferns and lycophytes. More detail is provided in an appendix giving key characters for classes, orders and families. A range of life cycles is described for ferns and lycophytes and comparisons made with seed plants.The second chapter on biogeography discusses dispersal, range size, the incidence of endemism and factors determining species richness. It stresses the need for more fieldwork to support laboratory studies. The third chapter on fern population dynamics deals with spore viability, gametophyte and sporophyte growth. Mature sporophytes have adaptations for colonising different habitats and there is emphasis on the importance of long-term monitoring both of populations and individual fronds on individual plants to further understanding in this area.In the fourth chapter the essential role of ferns in nutrient cycling is explored. In less-fertile areas ferns provide a greater proportion of the biomass compared with seed plants, although they generally have lower concentrations of nitrogen, phosphorus and calcium in their fronds (referred to throughout the book as leaves). The importance of mycorrhizal associates is stressed, together with the symbiosis between species of Azolla and the nitrogen-fixing bacteria Anabaena azollae. The fifth chapter deals with the surprising variety of adaptations that ferns exhibit within xeric habitats, with a greater proportion of desiccation-tolerant ferns when compared with seed-plants. The robust nature of many ferns is continued into the next chapter on disturbance and succession. In the late-Cretaceous extinction ferns were reported to have formed a major proportion of the vegetation that survived. Ferns still play a significant role as first colonisers after natural disasters and anthropogenic activity has provided built structures with new habitats for ferns. However, too-frequent disturbance of natural habitats, all too often associated with human activity, can lead to a decline in species richness. Chapter 7 is a discussion of how fungi and animals interact with ferns. This is another under-researched area with the popular perception that few invertebrates eat ferns, when further examination reveals many more herbivore activity, with areas yet unexplored. Chapter 8 deals in great detail with invasive opportunist ferns that can create problems, with a long section on Pteridium aquilinum, which is not an alien in the UK and has some benefits, although it also causes severe problems. Species that have been introduced outside their natural ranges tend to cause the greatest problems, as with floating mats of Salvinia up to 1 m deep, and native vegetation in Florida being smothered by a species of climbing Lygodium. Chapter 9 is on fern conservation and summarises the work that is currently taking place and measures used to protect vulnerable species. As in so many areas, more work is needed as conservation initiatives only cover a few species. The final chapter brings together the themes that have been explored in the earlier chapters and suggests potential areas of research.The experimental biology of ferns edited by A. F. Dyer (1979) is a precursor to some of the material in Fern ecology. Much of The experimental biology of ferns is laboratory-based, using valid traditional methods but written before molecular methods were developed. Ferns: their habitats in the British and Irish landscape by C. N. Page (1988) mentions many of the themes that have been expanded in Fern ecology, where much recent work is reported. A natural history of ferns by R. C. Moran (2004) is a more contemporary book, written using a more popular, descriptive style utilising similar language and fern classification complementing Fern ecology. The latter is illustrated with a mixture of colour and black and white photographs, frequent, clear graphs and occasional line drawings. This book will be of general interest to those who want to know more about ferns around the world. Despite so much information being presented, it is written in an accessible style with terms usually explained in the text or in the glossary. It will be of especial interest for students as a review of current knowledge and a source of inspiration for those looking for further projects.