A team of botanists from Edge Hill University have started a project to create the first Flora of over 700 species of Honduran ferns to support vital conservation, botany and climate change research. As part of the Flora project, they recently published the a complete catalogue of Honduran ferns.

This eight-year project will see Dr Sven Batke and a team from Edge Hill collaborate with Honduran botanist Johan Reyes-Chávez, to create a comprehensive ‘Fern Flora’, a key group of plants in their ecosystem.

Building this Flora is vitally important due to the number of fern species that are at threat of extinction in Honduras. A combination of climate change and deforestation means that many of the ferns habitats could disappear over the next 30 years.

Dr Sven Batke

Dr Sven Batke said: “When working in Honduras Dr Dallimore and I  discovered with our collaborators that the fern records in Honduras were outdated and inaccurate. Little taxonomic or genetics work had been done on these species, so it was important that we update the checklist and work towards a National Flora. Our work to date has created a comprehensive catalogue of fern species and will ultimately support vital conservation, botany and climate change research.

Dr Batke added: “Ferns are one of the most evolutionary important and oldest groups of plants, having dominated the earth since the time of the dinosaurs. In the tropics, they are especially diverse with hundreds of unique species and hybrids living there. Using ferns, we can learn a great deal about evolutionary processes and because of their sensitivity to climate change they can teach us how places like Honduras are being affected.”

The Flora will be a definitive catalogue containing illustrations, identification keys, which will be based on physical samples and a genetic barcoding work, allowing for easy identification of ferns in the future. This kind of catalogue will be the first of its kind in Honduras and is still relatively rare worldwide. It is hoped that this project will serve as a template for future plant checklists and catalogues and build a strong baseline for Honduran and international botanists.

Dr Batke’s team have already conducted a comprehensive literature review of new records for Honduras and to complete the project Edge Hill will call on the help of both academics and students who will visit Honduras multiple times over the course of the next eight years. While there, they will collect physical samples of all 713 ferns to bring back to the UK.

As well as having a physical collection of ferns being stored in Honduras a second complete collection will be stored in Liverpool’s World Museum in an important collaboration that will help to safeguard the incredible diversity of Honduran ferns for future generations to come.  

Edge Hill’s Faculty of Education will also use the project to teach children about ferns, evolution and the natural world. Educational visits to the World Museum to look at the fern checklist are already being planned alongside an exhibition of fern illustrations created by botanical artists from the University.

Edge Hill’s biology courses cover a range of plant related subjects including the genetic engineering of crops, producing cures for diseases and bringing back long extinct species. To find out more about the courses on offer visit www.edgehill.ac.uk/biology/courses/undergraduate/.