Identifying cryptic fern gametophytes using DNA barcoding: A review

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Joel Nitta, Sally M. Chambers


Ferns and lycophytes are unique among land plants for having sporophyte (diploid) and gametophyte (haploid) generations that can grow independently of each other. While most studies of fern ecology focus on the more obvious sporophytic stage, the gametophyte is critically important, as it is the sexual phase of the life cycle. Yet, fern gametophytes have long been neglected in field studies due to their small size and cryptic morphology. DNA barcoding is a powerful method that can be used to identify field-collected gametophytes to species and allow for detailed study of their ecology. Here, we review the state of DNA barcoding as applied to fern gametophytes. First, we trace the history of DNA barcoding and how it has come to be applied to fern gametophytes. Next, we summarize case studies that show how DNA barcoding has been used to better understand fern species distributions, gametophyte ecology, and community ecology. Finally, we propose avenues for future research using this powerful tool, including next-generation DNA sequencing for in-field identification of cryptic gametophytes.



Biology, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Genetics and Genomics, Life Sciences, Plant Sciences


DNA barcoding, fern, gametophyte, MinIon, rbcL


Published: 2021-12-14 13:13

Last Updated: 2022-04-06 19:50

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Conflict of interest statement:
Sally M. Chambers is on the editorial board of Applications in Plant Sciences (journal where the manuscript was submitted for publication), and was not involved in any way in the decision to accept or reject the submission.