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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

7 - Interactions of ferns with fungi and animals


Key points

1. Ferns and lycophytes have developed a wide spectrum of antagonistic and mutualistic relationships with fungi and animals. While some of these interactions, such as endomycorrhizae, are old and may have coexisted with their host plants for a long time, other interactions may have originated more recently, such as some herbivorous insects that have switched from seed plants to ferns.

2. More than 80% of sporophytes possess endomycorrhizae, while for a few species fern–ericoid mycorrhizae and ectendomycorrhizae have been reported. In the gametophytic stage, mycorrhizae are obligate in older fern and lycophyte lineages but are facultative or can be absent in more modern lineages.

3. Interactions with parasitic, symbiotic and neutral endophytic fungi that infect aerial parts of the ferns seem to be as common as in seed plants, while the proportion of interactions with insects seems to be 3–7 times lower than in seed plants.

4. Fern herbivores are most often members of the insect orders Coleoptera, Hemiptera and Lepidoptera and can be either generalists or insect species that have specialized on ferns. Two fern genera have strong mutualistic relationships with ants: Microgramma subgenus Solanopteris in the New World and Lecanopteris in the Old World tropics; a third, more facultative relationship has recently been described for Antrophyum in Costa Rica.

5. Most ferns have few specific biochemical defense mechanisms in comparison with seed plants, yet ferns and seed plants sustain similar levels of herbivore damage.

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