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Does lack of available suitable habitat explain the patchy distributions of rare calcicole fern species?

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In Canada, as in many countries, a relatively large number of fern species occur in specialized habitats and have low numbers of known populations containing few individuals. It has been suggested that the distribution of ferns is mostly determined by factors of climate and habitat due to relatively low limitations in ferns for dispersal and establishment. Here, we attempt to explain whether the local patchy distribution of three calcicole fern species rare in Canada (Asplenium ruta-muraria, Pellaea atropurpurea and Woodsia obtusa) is due to a lack of available habitat. Analyses based on micro-scale differences between sites occupied by the ferns and nearby, unoccupied sites did not reveal any significant differences, thereby indicating that the rarity of these species is not entirely driven by the rarity of their microhabitat at a local scale. Our results suggest that the widely accepted premise that ferns are not limited by dispersal or establishment should be reconsidered, as such limitations are the only likely explanation for empty available and suitable habitat.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2005

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