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  • Cited by 7
  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

1 - Ecological importance of ferns

Summary

Introduction

Ferns immediately capture the imagination of all who are fortunate enough to notice them. With their large, highly dissected and shiny green leaves, ferns are so visually appealing that many are sold as ornamentals. Most moist woodlands will have a number of fern species blanketing the understory with their pungent foliage. In tropical woodlands, ferns are often at eye level or above, providing an aesthetic and delicate subcanopy. Even in arid lands or on newly exposed surfaces such as burns, clear-cuts or landslides, ferns can be present and sometimes dominant, catching your full attention as you push through fern thickets or get snagged by their spines. Beyond their immediate visual appeal, ferns are curious objects. How do plants of such ancient origin persist in the modern world? How can something so fragile survive trampling, burning, logging or grazing? Ferns and lycophytes were long considered as mystical plants, because people did not understand how they could reproduce without ever producing a flower, a fruit or a seed (Moran, 2004). In this book, we address the mystique that surrounds ferns by exploring fern ecology, or how ferns relate to their environment. Throughout the world, whenever ferns are the focus of ecological research, important and often surprising findings emerge.

We present four approaches to fern ecology. First, we provide a conceptual synthesis of the rapidly expanding field of fern ecology in order to establish a framework for future research and to encourage interdisciplinary approaches to studies of ferns.

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