Te Papa Tongarewa,
National Museum of New Zealand
P.O. Box 467,
In New Zealand there are about 20 species of spleenwort ferns, so named because the early Greeks thought they could cure diseases of the spleen. In collaboration with Patrick Brownsey from Te Papa, I'm using DNA sequencing to investigate the evolutionary relationships between the New Zealand species and to assess which of the approximately 700 species overseas they are most closely related to. This will tell us where the New Zealand spleenwort ferns came from, and give us some insight as to when and how they arrived here.
We're also focusing on Asplenium bulbiferum and its relatives. Asplenium bulbiferum is commonly known as the "hen and chickens" fern, because on its fronds it produces little plantlets (the "chickens"), which can grow into whole new plants. It is naturally found only in Australasia, but is widely cultivated around the world. As well as the hen & chickens fern, several related species and subspecies (e.g., Hooker's spleenwort, the cave spleenwort) also occur in New Zealand, but the status of some other forms is uncertain (e.g., picture). We hope to unravel the evolutionary history of this group using DNA sequencing, DNA fingerprinting, and detailed morphological analyses. It is possible that some of the biodiversity in the hen & chickens fern group may have been generated by hybridisation and chromosome doubling, processes that we have already found to have occurred in New Zealand's shield (Polystichum) ferns.