The presence of a nutritionally independent gametophyte generation of spore-producing land plants, including those of ferns, has often been cited as an important factor in explaining their broader geographic distribution at the level of species and genera relative to that of seed plants. Dispersing spores widely and successfully is critical to establishing populations–both in terms of production and dispersal distance–yet literature with direct observation of these variables is scant. We double the number of studies directly observing dispersal in fern species by conducting spore trap experiments on Adiantum pedatum and Deparia acrostichoides, which grow together at a site in southeastern Ohio, U. S. A. In interpreting these results, we summarize the literature on spore production in ferns and examine the contribution of phylogenetic history to the variation in spore production across ferns. We corroborate findings that the vast majority of spores produced are dispersed within 2 m of the parent plant. Additionally, spore production in ferns varies widely between species but shows some phylogenetic conservatism and is correlated to frond area. We conclude that gametophyte (and sporophyte) establishment over distances greater than 3 m is governed by rare spore dispersal, but the sheer number of spores produced increases the probability of this event occurring and the establishment of sporophytes is likely dependent upon gametophytic traits. In ferns as a whole, differences in spore production are related to differences in frond area, but may also be related to overcoming genetic complications involved in long-distance dispersal.
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Vol. 107 • No. 3