Executive Summary:

American Fern Society & Pteridological Section of the Botanical Society of America

The primary goals of the Pteridological Section of the Botanical Society of America are to: promote the study of and teaching about ferns and other vascular cryptogams; serve as a focus for individuals interested in these plants; and help to integrate diverse approaches to studying biological patterns and processes with research questions about pteridophytes. Members of this section recognize that pteridophytes are not simply unique organisms; they offer unique opportunities for exploring and teaching about the biology of plants. In the realm of cell and molecular genetics, pteridophytes provide a model system that is simpler and easier to manipulate than those in the more complex flowering plants. Pteridophytes can provide important perspectives in understanding the structure of meristems. Studying ferns and other cryptogams is crucial to modern studies of photomorphogenesis and sex determination among plants in general and can help to appreciate the independence and interdependence of sporophytes and gametophytes. Analyzing the genetics of homosporous pteridophytes and their remarkably high chromosome numbers can provide valuable new information concerning the way that genes are expressed and controlled. As ancestors to the seed plants, pteridophytes offer valuable perspectives on the essence of diploidy and polyploidy and the mechanisms that maintain outcrossing mating systems in plants. Detailed studies of pteridophyte population genetics and ecology necessarily integrate different life history stages and provide a composite picture of the relative importance of gametophytes and sporophytes in initiating and maintaining natural populations. Additional studies of the systematics and evolutionary biology of pteridophytes are necessary to complement and provide a foundational context for the phylogeny of seed plants. Not only are new molecular systematic databases required to test hypotheses of pteridophyte evolution, but the development of modern monographic studies and the training of experts to recognize and analyze pteridophyte diversity represent critical contemporary responses to the biodiversity crisis.

In addition to these observations about pteridophytes, members of the section also identified four sets of general concerns about the future of plant biology in general: the BSA should seek to increase outreach programs and develop mechanisms to inform the public of the value of basic research and the importance of plants in understanding biodiversity; BSA members should be called upon to inform administrators about the loss of representation of fundamental aspects of integrative biology when botany departments are lost and, subsequently, when biology departments become (in actuality) zoology or molecular biology departments (such biased departments are no longer able to provide curricula that accurately educate students in contemporary aspects of development, ecology, systematics, genetics, or biodiversity); the BSA should establish committees to improve the quality of undergraduate educational opportunities by presenting curricular modifications that help to depict accurately the full range of studies of the biological world; the BSA Council and membership should be challenged to enhance opportunities for communication among members, lobby federal agencies on behalf of basic research, promote education that will stimulate young minds, maintain a perspective of synthesis and integration in the face of faddish scientific advances, and support efforts to develop creative means for injecting information about plant biology and/or experiments involving plants into undergraduate and high school educational programs.

Section Committee:

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