Forest Facts

Ferns owe it all to Hornworts

This is one of my favorite views of the redwood forest: eye level with the ferns.

Neochrome found in fern fronds help capture light on the dim forest floor.

 

This week, we learned that ferns owe their survival on the shady forest floor to a very unassuming plant called a hornwort. Genetic analyses revealed that the chemical found in fern leaves that help these glorious plants capture light in the dim shadows of trees (called neochrome) hopped over from moss-like hornworts into the ferns around the time of the dinosaurs.

How do genes hop? Well, it’s called horizontal gene transfer and it could have happened by bacteria or viruses infecting hornwort genes into the ferns. This isn’t very common at all in plants, but it’s had major evolutionary impacts the ferns: enabling 9,000 species of ferns to evolve since this point in Earth’s history.

I think this is rad!

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