How does climate change affect ferns and fog on the forest floor?

Jul 19, 2010 By Richard Hun
How does climate change affect ferns and fog on the forest floor?

(PhysOrg.com) -- Ferns play an important role in California's redwood forests by transferring moisture from fog to the forest floor -- even when it's not raining. If these plants can successfullly adapt to reduced rainfall, it will mitigate the impact of drought on the ecosystem and reduce the potential for local population extinctions, say UC Berkeley researchers.

As the mercury rises outdoors, it's a fitting time to consider the effects of summertime droughts and global warming on ecosystems. Complex interactions among temperature, cycling, and plant communities create a tangled web of questions that need to be answered as we face a rapidly .

Drs. Emily Limm and Todd Dawson (University of California, Berkeley) recently tackled one aspect of the challenging question of how climate change can impact plant communities that obtain water from fog. Their results are published in the July issue of the .

Fog is an important source of water to ecosystems around the world, because fog allows plants to stay hydrated even during times without rain. Fog may condense and drip to the soil, where it can be taken up by roots. Alternatively, some plants are able to absorb the water from fog through their leaves, allowing these plants to immediately benefit from the atmospheric moisture that may never reach the forest floor. The fern Polystichum munitum covers the forest floors of the redwood forests in northern California. Limm and Dawson examined variation in the ability of the leaves of P. munitum to absorb the water from fog.

The researchers found that the quantity of water the plants absorbed varied in the different regions of the redwood forest. "Today, summertime drought conditions are greater in the southern end of the redwood forest ecosystem of Northern California, and this reduces P. munitum abundance and plant size. These smaller ferns in the south are less able to capture fog water that drips to the forest floor during the summer, and they may therefore suffer more drought stress than ferns in the northern end of the redwood forest ecosystem," Limm stated.

This has important implications for the structure of . Limm explained, "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."

Limm and Dawson are hoping that native ferns may be able to acclimate to increasing drought conditions, and this acclimation would allow the plants to mitigate the effects of drought on the ecosystem and reduce the potential for local population extinctions. "If these ferns can make morphological and physiological adjustments to survive when drought intensifies, then they will be less impacted by climate change in the near future," Limm commented.

Limm and Dawson have involved the public in their research through a Citizen Scientist program. The public helps to collect data on the abundance of P. munitum in a redwood forest near Oakland, California. This not only has contributed to the research on the effect of on P. munitum, but also has resulted in a change in people's impressions of the forest.

"I've often heard people exclaim that they never realized that there where even plants on the 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," Limm said.

Explore further: Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

More information: Limm and Dawson's findings appear in the July issue of the American Journal of Botany, and the article is currently online at www.amjbot.org/cgi/content/full/97/7/1121

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Ferns took to the trees and thrived

Jul 02, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- As flowering plants like giant trees quickly rose to dominate plant communities during the Cretaceous period, the ferns that had preceded them hardly saw it as a disappointment.

Recommended for you

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

Apr 17, 2014

One day about eight years ago, Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, and her father were on a field trip in a mountainous area in central Panama when they stumbled ...

In sex-reversed cave insects, females have the penises

Apr 17, 2014

Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 17 have discovered little-known cave insects with rather novel sex lives. The Brazilian insects, which represent four distinct but re ...

Fear of the cuckoo mafia

Apr 17, 2014

If a restaurant owner fails to pay the protection money demanded of him, he can expect his premises to be trashed. Warnings like these are seldom required, however, as fear of the consequences is enough to ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.