Freshwater and marine sediments often harbor reservoirs of plant diaspores, from which germination and establishment may occur whenever the sediment falls dry. Therewith, they form valuable records of historical interand intraspecific diversity, and are increasingly exploited to facilitate diversity establishment in new or restored nature areas. Yet, while ferns may constitute a considerable part of a vegetation’s diversity and sediments are known to contain fern spores, little is known about their longevity, which may suffer from inundation and - in sea bottoms - salt stress. We tested the potential of ferns to establish from a sea or lake bottom, using experimental studies on spore survival and gametophyte formation, as well as a spore bank analysis on sediments from a former Dutch inland sea. Our experimental results revealed clear differences among species. For Asplenium scolopendrium and Gymnocarpium dryopteris, spore germination was not affected by inundated storage alone, but decreased with rising salt concentrations. In contrast, for Asplenium trichomanes subsp. quadrivalens germination decreased following inundation, but not in response to salt. Germination rates decreased with time of storage in saline water. Smaller and less viable gametophytes were produced when saline storage lasted for a year. Effects on germination and gametophyte development clearly differed among genotypes of A. scolopendrium. Spore bank analyses detected no viable spores in marine sediment layers. Only two very small gametophytes (identified as Thelypteris palustris via DNA barcoding) emerged from freshwater sediments. Both died before maturation. We conclude that marine, and likely even freshwater sediments, will generally be of little value for long-term storage of fern diversity. The development of any fern vegetation on a former sea floor will depend heavily on the deposition of spores onto the drained land by natural or artificial means of dispersal.
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