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Life Cycle of Seedless Vascular Plants

Seedless vascular plants alternate generations.

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Who Needs Seeds?
Teacher Contributed

Who Needs Seeds?

Student Exploration

Looks Aren't Everything

Ferns have a special fascination for some people. They are so clearly plants but so different from many of the plants we see. Inspecting them closely, they seem to convey their great age (the first fossil ferns appear about 360 MYA) with a simple elegance. Scientists today are interested in how these plants have survived previous climate changes and what they may teach us about possible outcomes of the current climate change we are experiencing. Find out some more about their complicated life cycle and then find out why scientists are finding that ferns still have a lot to teach us.

Extension Investigation

Use the resources below to answer the following questions:

  1. How do spores differ from seeds? What sorts of environmental conditions can seeds endure that are problematic for spores?
  2. What anchors the gametophyte to the soil? What does the gametophyte use these structures for?
  3. How is water necessary for ferns to complete their life cycle? Why does this limit where ferns can grow? How do we see this effect in the current geographic distribution of ferns?
  4. Epihytic means literally "on a plant". How long lived are epiphytic fern gametophytes? How does this compare to terrestrial gametophytes? How does this situation compare to the commonly held belief about gametophytes among scientists? How does this alter views about the life history of these plants?
  5. How does tolerance to desiccation (i.e. loss of water) differ between gametophytes and sporophytes? How do these differences aid in the species survival under conditions of environmental change?
  6. How do terrestrial gametophytes differ from hemiepiphytic and epiphytic ferns with regards to their response to light limitation and ecological disturbance? How do their responses represent different strategies to unique environmental conditions?

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