Will ferns play a key role in mitigating climate change for some forests?

Polystichum munitum. Photo by Emily B. Limm. Published in American Journal of Botany

There’s an inter­est­ing paper in the July edi­tion of the American Journal of Botany, Polystichum munitum (Dryopteridaceae) var­ies geo­graph­ic­ally in its capa­city to absorb fog water by foliar uptake within the red­wood forest eco­sys­tem by Drs. Emily Limm and Todd Dawson. The ferns are an import­ant part of the red­wood forest eco­sys­tem as they pull their water from fog. Climate change increases droughts and the ferns are suf­fer­ing as a res­ult. Dr Emily Limm of UC Berkeley said: “If cli­mate change causes fur­ther shrink­age of these ferns, this will change how fog water is dis­trib­uted on the forest floor and may lead to dra­matic changes in how the red­wood under­story functions.”

While the paper might be another grim warn­ing about cli­mate change there’s more pos­it­ive news about pub­lic involve­ment. The pub­lic helped gather the data about P.munitium abund­ance around Oakland, California. Limm said: “I’ve often heard people exclaim that they never real­ized that there where even plants on the forest floor in the red­wood forest because they are always look­ing up at the giant coast redwoods…After they learn about P. munitum’s amaz­ing abil­ity to absorb fog water through their leaves in much higher rates than the coast red­wood, they often tell me that they will never look at a fern the same way again.”

If Dryopteridaceae are your thing we also have a couple of recent papers now avail­able for free.

  • Quintanilla LG, Escuderos A. 2006. Spore Fitness Components Do Not Differ Between Diploid and Allotetraploid Species of Dryopteris (Dryopteridaceae). Annals of Botany 98(3):609–618. doi:10.1093/aob/mcl137
  • Tani T, Kudo G. 2005. Overwintering Leaves of a Forest-floor Fern, Dryopteris crassirhizoma (Dryopteridaceae): a Small Contribution to the Resource Storage and Photosynthetic Carbon Gain. Annals of Botany 95(2):263–270. doi:10.1093/aob/mci021

Alun Salt. ORCID 0000-0002-1261-4283

When he's not the web developer for AoB Blog, Alun Salt researches something that could be mistaken for the archaeology of science. His current research is about whether there's such a thing as scientific heritage and if there is how would you recognise it?