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Killer Vines Strangling the Rainforest

A large staghorn fern

A large staghorn fern (Platycerium superbum) in north Queensland rainforest. The fertile brown “patches” are spores ready to disperse.

By Mason Campbell, Ainhoa Magrach & William Laurance

Woody vines are proliferating in Australia’s fragmented tropical rainforests and threatening the existence of ferns.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

If you think the story of a gigantic beanstalk holding aloft an isolated kingdom is confined to the pages of Jack and the Beanstalk, think again: real-life analogues of these green islands in the sky actually exist. And much like the mythical land atop the beanstalk, their existence is threatened.

Stroll into an Australian tropical rainforest and one of the first things you will notice are the spectacular ferns attached to the trunks of enormous rainforest trees. These ferns are epiphytes – they use the trees for support but do not parasitise them.

Epiphytic ferns were already present in the rainforest when the final vestiges of the supercontinent Gondwana were breaking up around 40 million years ago. Today they are isolated green communities suspended high in the rainforest canopy.

These ferns contain a diverse and abundant community of insects and other invertebrates. In fact, one large fern can contain as much invertebrate biomass as the rest of the tree crown. And it’s not just “creepy crawlies” that live here. One study found that nearly half of all sightings of Australia’s largest snake, the amethystine python, were in epiphytic vegetation, with 80% of them in basket ferns.

Epiphytic ferns can become immense, weighing more than a tonne and often encircling the entire stem of a large rainforest tree. Yet these often-massive ferns begin...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.