Independent gametophyte ferns are unique among vascular plants because they are sporophyteless and reproduce asexually to maintain their populations in the gametophyte generation. Such ferns had been primarily discovered in temperate zone, and usually hypothesized with (sub)tropical origins and subsequent extinction of sporophyte due to climate change during glaciations. Presumably, independent fern gametophytes are unlikely to be distributed in tropics and subtropics because of relatively stable climates which are less affected by glaciations. Nonetheless, the current study presents cases of two independent gametophyte fern species in subtropic East Asia. In this study, we applied plastid DNA sequences (trnL-L-F and matK + ndhF + chlL datasets) and comprehensive sampling (~80%) of congeneric species for molecular identification and divergence time estimation of these independent fern gametophytes. The two independent gametophyte ferns were found belonging to genus Haplopteris (vittarioids, Pteridaceae) and no genetic identical sporophyte species in East Asia. For one species, divergence times between its populations imply recent oversea dispersal(s) by spores occurred during Pleistocene. By examining their ex situ and in situ fertility, prezygotic sterility was found in these two Haplopteris, in which gametangia were not or very seldom observed, and this prezygotic sterility might attribute to their lacks of functional sporophytes. Our field observation and survey on their habitats suggest microhabitat conditions might attribute to this prezygotic sterility. These findings point to consideration of whether recent climate change during the Pleistocene glaciation resulted in ecophysiological maladaptation of non-temperate independent gametophyte ferns. In addition, we provided a new definition to classify fern gametophyte independences at the population level. We expect that continued investigations into tropical and subtropical fern gametophyte floras will further illustrate the biogeographic significance of non-temperate fern gametophyte independence.
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The authors thank Joel Nitta and Jerald Pinson for providing comments on the manuscript; Mr. Daniel P. Chamberlin for helping English editing; Kaede Mizukoshi, Hiroko Sakuragi, Louzamira Bivaqua, Sabilah Tahir, and Shizuka Fuse for the assistance of gametophyte survey in Yakushima; Hui Wang, Pi-Fong Lu, Ralf Knapp, Tian-Chuan Hsu, Wayne Takeuchi, and Zhao-Rong He for the sample collecting.
Li-Yaung Kuo and Cheng-Wei Chen have contributed equally to this work.
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Kuo, LY., Chen, CW., Shinohara, W. et al. Not only in the temperate zone: independent gametophytes of two vittarioid ferns (Pteridaceae, Polypodiales) in East Asian subtropics. J Plant Res 130, 255–262 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10265-016-0897-x
- East Asia
- Independent gametophyte