Fern Research

fernscombWe are engaged in a number of research projects on ferns.  These include:

1)  an investigation of the taxonomy and biogeography of Australasian members of Gleicheniaceae, focussed especially on Gleichenia and Sticherus;

2) research, funded by a BushBlitz grant from ABRS on the phylogeny, classification and biogeography of Australia’s four largest fern families: Aspleniaceae, Pteridaceae, Blechnaceae, Hymenophyllaceae  (see below).


Mike Bayly, The University of Melbourne

Daniel Ohlsen, The University of Melbourne

Leon Perrie,  Museum Of New Zealand

Patrick Brownsey, Museum Of New Zealand

Lara Shepherd, Massey University, New Zealand

Erin Batty, The University of Melbourne

Ruby Wilson, The University of Melbourne

Australia’s largest fern families

This research will combine molecular and morphological data to assess the taxonomy, relationships, biogeography and conservation of four of Australia’s largest fern families.  The primary focus will be Australia’s largest fern genus, Asplenium (family Aspleniaceae, c. 35 spp.), but we will concurrently study Blechnaceae (c. 29 spp.), Hymenophyllaceae (c. 45 spp.), and Pteridaceae (c. 58 spp.). 

For Aspleniaceae, a revised species-level classification will be produced, including a new identification key and a reference set of chloroplast DNA (cpDNA) sequences for all species.  Morphological and molecular data will be used to: assess the taxonomic status of doubtful species; understand the histories of species with disjunct distributions; examine widespread and variable species for evidence of cryptic diversity. Population genetic markers (AFLPs) will be used to provide information targeted to the conservation-management of rare species, thereby identifying priority sites for conservation-management. A comprehensive molecular phylogeny, including multiple accessions of all Australian species, and integrating available data from foreign species, will facilitate a re-alignment of generic boundaries, provide insight into the diversity of lineages in Australia (phylogenetic diversity) and their biogeographic connections. 


Pat and Daniel

For Blechnaceae, Hymenophyllaceae, and Pteridaceae, cpDNA sequencing is being used to identify major Australian lineages, and their relationships to overseas species already sequenced.  The aim is to include most Australian species, represented by multiple accessions, thereby also assessing, in conjunction with morphology, levels of variation within and between species. 

A presentation on some of this research was given at the Bush Blitz symposium in Canberra in July 2013 (see video here).


Ohlsen, D.J., Perrie, L.R., Shepherd, L.D., Brownsey, P.J., Bayly, M.J. (2015) Investigation of species boundaries and relationships in the Asplenium paleaceum complex (Aspleniaceae) using AFLP fingerprinting and chloroplast and nuclear DNA sequences. Australian Systematic Botany 27, 378–394.

Ohlsen, D.J., Perrie, L.R., Shepherd, L.D., Brownsey, P.J., Bayly, M.J. (2015) Phylogeny of the fern family Aspleniaceae in Australasia and the south-west Pacific. Australian Systematic Botany 27, 355–371.

Ohlsen, D.J., Perrie, L.R., Shepherd, L.D., Bayly, M.J. (2015)  Taxonomic status and distribution of the critically endangered Christmas Island Spleenwort (Asplenium listeri; Aspleniaceae): it is not as rare as we thought. Australian Systematic Botany 27, 372–377.

Perrie, L.R., Wilson, R.K., Shepherd, L.D., Ohlsen, D.J., Batty, E.L., Brownsey, P.J., Bayly, M.J. (2014).  Molecular phylogenetics and generic taxonomy of Blechnaceae ferns.  Taxon 63, 745–758.

Ohlsen D.J., Field A.R. (2013).  A new fern species for Queensland: Diplazium squamuligerum (Rosenst.) Parris (Woodsiaceae).  Austrobaileya 9,114–125.

Perrie L.R., Shepherd, L.D., de Lange, P.J., Batty, E.L., Ohlsen, D.J., Bayly, M.J., Brownsey, P.J. (2013).  Hymenophyllum pluviatile, a new and uncommon fern from New Zealand.  New Zealand Journal of Botany 51, 308–320.

Perrie L.R., Ohlsen, D., Shepherd, L., Brownsey, P.J., Bayly, M.J. (2010). Tasmanian and Victorian populations of the fern Asplenium hookerianum result from independent dispersals from New Zealand. Australian Systematic Botany 23, 387–392.

Perrie, L.R., Bayly, M.J., Lehenbach, C.A., and Brownsey, P.J. (2007).  Molecular phylogenetics and molecular dating of the New Zealand Gleicheniaceae.  Brittonia 59, 129–141.