Kimberly Watson and Robbin C. Moran
Ferns and their relatives (“pteridophytes”) arose approximately 420 million years ago and were the dominant plant groups for hundreds of millions of years afterwards. Today the pteridophytes are outnumbered by the diversity and abundance of other plant groups, such as those that bear flowers, but they remain diverse (with around 12,000 species), ecologically important, and are found throughout the world. This Thematic Collections Network (TCN) brings together 9 core institutions whose goal is to make digital images and data on the distribution and biology of 1.6 million fossil and modern ferns and their relatives available to researchers. This effort includes 39 US Museums and Herbaria that will provide on-line access of collections data to researchers worldwide who will be able to address pressing questions about the evolution, distribution, and biology of land plants. This project would train students and reach the public through teacher training opportunities, the development of curriculum and education boxes and through the production of informative science videos.
The Pteridological Collections Consortium TCN is an interdisciplinary initiative that will database, image, and disseminate information on an unprecedented number of extant and fossil pteridophyte specimens. The combining of neo- and paleobotanical collections data will produce an online resource via a Symbiota framework to enable research on the distribution, ecology, genetics, and deep-time evolution of an important group of vascular plants. Pteridophytes are important because they 1) are relatively diverse and have extensive global distributions, 2) are associated with evolutionary innovations that shaped adaptations to terrestrial ecosystems, 3) they are sensitive to local environmental conditions and play important roles in modern communities, and 4) they have an excellent fossil record for addressing deep-time questions. This award is made as part of the National Resource for Digitization of Biological Collections through the Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections program and all data resulting from this award will be available through the national resource (iDigBio.org).