All posts by Ian John DEVEREUX

Identification

Prior to collecting my actual research data, I spent some time around Old Goginan, near Aberystwyth in North Ceredigion. The following pictures below are samples collected during a walk between Capel Bangor and Old Goginan. This was during the early stages of my ID explorations in May 2016, so if any of them are wrong please let me know! I have fine-honed my ID for my present work however, given the relatively fewer species I am examining.

The pictures aren’t nearly close-up enough for accuracy, but I hope will give a general indication…

  1. Athyrium filix-femina, Lady Fern

Characterised by the very dark scales along the stipe, and the shuttlecock formation of fronds. Easily confused with the Dryopteris  genus, but it’s appearance is much more ‘fountain’ like than shuttlecock in habit.

2. Blechnum spicant, Hard Fern or Deer Fern

Easily identified. The picture shows both the broader sterile and much more slender ‘fertile’ (i.e. spore-bearing) fronds.

3. Dryopteris aemula, Hay-scented Buckler

The random recurvation of the pinnae and pinnules gives this fern it’s unique appearance. This was found in only one place in the area where samples were taken, with just a few specimens present.

4. Dryopteris affinis, Golden-scaled Male Fern

Characterised by a stunning architectural formation, and densely packed golden brown scales along the stipe and into the rachis.

5. Dryopteris dilatata, Broad Buckler

Fairly lax in appearance, but with often rather flamboyant and large blades in the right conditions. Its scales are golden with a dark central smudge.

6. Dryopteris filix-mas, Male fern

The classic British woodland fern, forming a fairly lax shuttlecock formation. Golden scales along the stipe and into the rachis, but much less dense than those of D. affinis.

7. Polypodium vulgare, Common Polypody

Easily confused with other members of the Polypody family as many of them are very similar! Quite commonly seen growing in a variety of situations e.g. terrestrial, epiphytic.

8. Who knows! Possibly a hybrid?

I really have no idea about this one! The picture doesn’t show it very clearly but the stipe and rachis were very red/reddish-brown in colour. I did wonder if it might be a hybrid with a garden fern as there were residential properties in close proximity to the point of collection?

 

Obviously in terms of identification there are many other points to note such as the exact structure of the pinnae and pinnules, the arrangement of sori and their indusia. However this is merely my early investigation into identification, and I am presenting it as such. Again, I welcome any feedback!

 

REVELATIONS #1

There have been many!

Whilst I had initially been determined that soil moisture levels were the over-riding factor in the biogeographical distribution of pteridophytes, it quickly became clear to me that to utilise that data in isolation (at least within this piece of research) would be counter-productive. Having initially been interested in pteridophytes’ ability to reproduce in a variety of circumstances, I began to realise the following points:

a) Their presence does not appear to be restricted to soil moisture, therefore one must also consider light levels, soil pH, prevailing weather conditions and ambient temperature.

b) Their ability to reproduce sexually or clonally, or indeed apogamously in some cases, could have a significant bearing upon results.

c) How their presence (particularly in the case of Pteridium aquilinum) might impact upon the biodiversity of other botanical species. Which also raised eventual questions regarding Dryopteris spp. proving to be of a similar ilk albeit in a quite different environment. Therefore, raising the question of which pteridophyte genera is where? And thus forth what other botanical species are (or should be) there?

d) As alluded to above and in previous posts, it became clear that my initial thoughts of comparing Dryopteris filix-mas with Pteridium aquilinum were compounded by my education in fern identification. Having found that at various points Dryopteris affinis and Dryopteris dilatata were also present.

e) D. filix-mas appears to be present in areas where one might not usually expect it.

All of this led me to alter my initial Research Proposal, and the resulting final proposal submitted in November 2016 was subsequently titled “Comparison of the ecologies of Dryopteris agg. and Pteridium aquilinum”.

I undertook this change with direct reference to the points noted above, and also with the dawning realisation (and literary research) of the propensity for P. aquilinum to definitely impact upon biodiversity in Britain due to humankind’s land management practices allowing it to reproduce clonally in essence upon open grasslands. And furthermore, from the realisation that D. filix-mas (and possibly similar family members) has a similar potential to form, where conditions are favourable, a ‘green desert’ upon woodland floors.

In this way my research began to develop a two-pronged approach: Firstly, and foremostly as a study in how pteridophytes are able to adapt to changing ecosystems given their reproductive restrictions, and secondly if they could be a potential threat to biodiversity through their adaptable nature.

THE TRANSECT

 

 

Having grown up in West Wales, and knowing the proposed transect for my research well (albeit from fleeting glances), it became clear to me that if I were to properly record data for the ferns in question I would need to divide the transect into its variety of visible ecosystems. Some of these were fairly standard (e.g. woodland, grassland, coastal), however during my initial investigations it became clear that there were indeed anomalies in the presence or absence of both Dryopteris and Pteridium. Most presence was expected, nevertheless I set about dividing the transect into a series of eight zones according to my own perception of the landscape, and my explorations therein further informed the tangent of my research and its development. Possibly not an accepted means of recording on an ecological basis! This transect essentially follows a public footpath. The map above delineates my selected zones, and a description of each is as follows:

ZONE 1

Adjacent to the disused waterwheel at Llwyn-ysgaw. Principally boggy wetland, dominated by wild celery but with D. filix-mas present in areas close to the dry stone wall adjacent to the waterwheel and the remains of the wall nearby, and nearer the stream bed prior to it breaking into an area of more open marsh.

ZONE 2

A culvert runs beneath the road from Zone 1 into Zone 2, thus channelling a stream into this zone of young woodland. Woodland species proliferate however D. filix-mas dominates, particularly in areas adjacent to the stream.

ZONE 3

The stream runs adjacent to an old hedgerow, adjacent to arable land. Shaded yet also open. Very little evidence of pteridophytes here, three of four specimens of D. filix-mas close to the hedgerow and stream to the southerly point of the zone.

ZONE 4

An interesting zone and possibly slightly overlooked due to its difficulties. Stream runs into open arable land within a deep ditch therefore semi-cultivated. Pteridium evident for the first time on the transect, in very close quarters to both the cultivated land and the stream. D. filix-mas present streamside mainly upon the westerly facing bank. This zone then runs into a deep valley, but recordings are maintained around the footpath area above this as the valley is inaccessible without assistance. However other Dryopteris species are noted as becoming increasingly prevalent, even if it is not possible to obtain recordings from them.

ZONE 5

Here the footpath drops into the valley, and into what appears to be young woodland, however given the vagaries of the West Wales climate may simply be wind and weather worn trees. However here it becomes apparent that there are stands of Dryopteris dilatata, with occasional D. affinis and some evidence of D. filix-mas, particularly near the stream. Some epiphytic growth present.

ZONE 6

In which the footpath wends its way up out of the valley and into open grasslands, with the stream and valley continuing to the north of the transect, before the stream outpours into the sea (inaccessible). Vast stands of P. aquilinum here, and visible across the entirety of the valley. Some instances of D. filix-mas, but diminutive in form.

ZONE 7

Almost purely coastal, clifftops and associated vegetation. A vast stand of P. aquilinum near the cliff (and the headland of Penpeles), possibly some young bracken sporophytes within open grassland (but given the deep run of their rhizomes it is hard to be sure).

ZONE 8

A different stream runs into this zone and then down into the sea. An interesting area. P. aquilinum occurs sporadically hugging the near-land coastline. D. filix-mas however appears closer to the rocky clifftops and shore, again in somewhat diminutive form but evidently thriving. Noted from within this rocky bay, a wall of presumed Dryopteris of unknown speciation, and very much inaccessible. Not part of this research maybe but it raises the question of salinity tolerance in that which is predominantly a woodland species?

 

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

My name is Ian Devereux, and I am a 3rd Year BSc (Hons) Wildlife & Plant Biology student at Glyndwr University. During the course of my studies I have developed what can only be described as a massive love for ferns. I have gardened for years and have always admired their architecture and usefulness in shady areas, but having discovered their biological intricacies during the course of my studies I am smitten!

I could very easily at this juncture begin a discourse regarding ferns’ reproductive cycle, ecologies and variation in species and adaptability. However, I think it is more important to provide a proper introduction to this blog and my intentions for it, an overview of my research to date, and future plans as they stand at present. So, without further ado…

THE BLOG

I have become fascinated by ferns due to my discoveries within my research into them over the past couple of years. As a result of this I am writing my undergraduate dissertation upon them, and with this blog I hope to not only share my experiences of my research but also to invite feedback and discourse with regard to it. I am of course quite new to pteridology, and there are many other people, both academic and amateur, with a well-spring of experience and knowledge greater than mine. Therefore, as I tenuously track my progress within what is a rather public forum, I should be most grateful to hear the opinions and learn from the experience of others, and I hope that my research may be useful and interesting.

RESEARCH

My interest in ferns was sparked initially by learning of their dual reproductive cycle (gametophytes and sporophytes), their history as aquatic plants hence their need (much like amphibians) to ‘return to water’ to breed, and history as sun-loving plants prior to transgenesis with hornworts allowing them to colonise areas of lower light levels. All of this made me realise that although they have limitations in their presence within ecosystems, that they are also potentially early colonisers of new/changing ecosystems due to their adaptability, depending upon species and their varying light tolerance and water stress resistance.

This led me to wonder how moisture levels affected the presence and spread of pteridophytes, therefore in April 2016 I submitted my Research Proposal, entitled “Comparison of the presence/absence of Pteridium aquilinum and Dryopteris filix-mas and associated soil moisture levels within a specific locality”. Within this proposal were details of my plans to record soil moisture and light levels over a set period of time in an area where both species were present (or indeed absent) at various points. The area I selected was a public footpath between Llwyn-ysgaw and Penpeles in Ceredigion (near Felinwynt, just North from Grid reference SN 22605 50307).

I have, over the summer of 2016, collected this data towards my dissertation. And during this process I have encountered a somewhat steep learning curve with regard to accurate identification, the strength and significance of data, and not to mention my discoveries of the potential impact of pteridophytes upon biodiversity. All of this will be discussed in future posts. As I begin the structuring of my dissertation research and final submission, I shall be discussing my findings over the past few months and hopefully beginning to plot a trajectory that may be of interest to fern enthusiasts and ecologists alike.

Again, any feedback shall be warmly welcomed!

Ian