5 - Fern adaptations to xeric environments  pp. 140-176

Fern adaptations to xeric environments

By Peter Hietz

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Key points

  • 1. Ferns are most prominent in shady and humid environments, but many species are also found in drought-prone habitats, either (semi) arid ecosystems or locations with discontinuous water supply within otherwise humid ecosystems. These locations include tree branches and rocks, both substrates with little water storage capacity.
  • 2. Drought tolerance is gained through adaptations in water uptake, water loss, water storage and, in many ferns, desiccation tolerance, a feature that ferns share with other cryptogams. The little information available on the cuticle's efficiency to limit water loss suggests that it may be similar to other vascular plants. Thus many xerophytic ferns, while tolerating desiccation, normally avoid it through low cuticular and stomatal water loss and may not be considered truly poikilohydric. Exceptions are filmy ferns with very little control of water loss and whose water relations are akin to mosses rather than vascular plants.
  • 3. Other adaptations found in xerophytic ferns include photoprotection with pigments, antioxidants, dense indument, leaf curling and drought avoidance by shedding leaves in the dry season. Crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) is a common adaptation of xerophytic angiosperms, but is very rare in ferns. Succulence is not strongly developed in xerophytic ferns.
  • 4. Drought adaptations of ferns are analyzed in light of their phylogenetic positions and compared with those of angiosperms. This chapter discusses the potentially underlying causes of drought tolerance in ferns and points to gaps in our understanding as well as possible future research.
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