PBIO 209, The Biology of Ferns


Winter and Spring 2012

David S. Barrington  Office: 310 Jeffords Hall, Phone: 6-0431, email: dbarring@uvm.edu                                                                                                                                                                                                      
Tuesday and Thursday,  Jan. 17 to May 1, 11:30-12:45, room 302 (the Tryon Library, Pringle Herbarium), Torrey Hall, and at other times in the greenhouse or in the woods.  

Course Description and Objectives

       My overall goal in this course is to provide upper-level students with an in-depth experience of the evolutionary biology of the ferns, a remarkably successful plant group with a long history and dramatic success in the modern world.   Worldwide there is an active community of biologists doing research to reveal the major features of  fern evolution with an array of modern techniques.   In this course, I'll give you the background to understand the breaking news from the frontier of fern research --- and equip you to read and interpret the diverse and complex modern literature.                                                                                                                                          At the same time, I'd like you to have some knowledge of the diversity of ferns through direct experience, so I will show you an array of ferns, living and as herbarium specimens, with the idea of your leaving the course with a working knowledge of fern diversity in an evolutionary and geographic framework.   No matter what you end up doing, the way we will go about looking at the evolutionary biology of this group will serve as an example of how to make inquiries into the natural world that yield trustworthy insights.
The course material is divided into eight broad topic areas to be developed through lecture, class discussion, readings, and field trips.  As I am unable to cover the full array of hot topics in fern biology, I have chosen to focus on diversity, life history, ecological specialization, and phylogeny.    I have some great resources to draw upon, including the collections housed at the Pringle Herbarium, the UVM greenhouse, and the Montreal Botanical Garden.


There is no textbook for Plant Biology 209.  Each week we will read an article or a portion on a book from the pteridological literature.  Chosen to represent some of the best fern research of the past seventy years, these papers will provide the basis for class discussion of the current lecture topic.  Readings will be posted on the course website.  Many, perhaps all,  readings will be downloadable pdf files.

The Field Trips

You need to see these plants alive, so we will go to the UVM greenhouses several times, once very early in the semester.   In addition there are two week-end field trips late in the course.  In late April, we will go to the Montreal Botanical Gardens to spend a couple of hours in the fern house there.   A stop for crepes afterward in Old Montreal is usually part of the trip. (YOU NEED A PASSPORT OR ENHANCED IDENTIFICATION FOR THIS TRIP!) Then, in early May, we will travel to Niquette Bay State Park for an experience of the local fern flora.  Here we will see a variety of species, mostly the evergreen members of the fern flora and some dynamite rock-dwellers!  We will arrange the dates early in the course.



Your grade in Plant Biology 209 will be based on required and weightable components:

            Required: weekly quizzes (ten total)      20%

The remaining components, for which you must decide the weighting, are

            A Midterm                                 

            A Final Exam                           

            A Project/Presentation             

I will explain the details of weighting in class.