Science Enabled by Specimen Data

Serra‐Diaz, J. M., J. Borderieux, B. Maitner, C. C. F. Boonman, D. Park, W. Guo, A. Callebaut, et al. 2024. occTest: An integrated approach for quality control of species occurrence data. Global Ecology and Biogeography.

Aim Species occurrence data are valuable information that enables one to estimate geographical distributions, characterize niches and their evolution, and guide spatial conservation planning. Rapid increases in species occurrence data stem from increasing digitization and aggregation efforts, and citizen science initiatives. However, persistent quality issues in occurrence data can impact the accuracy of scientific findings, underscoring the importance of filtering erroneous occurrence records in biodiversity analyses.InnovationWe introduce an R package, occTest, that synthesizes a growing open‐source ecosystem of biodiversity cleaning workflows to prepare occurrence data for different modelling applications. It offers a structured set of algorithms to identify potential problems with species occurrence records by employing a hierarchical organization of multiple tests. The workflow has a hierarchical structure organized in testPhases (i.e. cleaning vs. testing) that encompass different testBlocks grouping different testTypes (e.g. environmental outlier detection), which may use different testMethods (e.g. Rosner test, jacknife,etc.). Four different testBlocks characterize potential problems in geographic, environmental, human influence and temporal dimensions. Filtering and plotting functions are incorporated to facilitate the interpretation of tests. We provide examples with different data sources, with default and user‐defined parameters. Compared to other available tools and workflows, occTest offers a comprehensive suite of integrated tests, and allows multiple methods associated with each test to explore consensus among data cleaning methods. It uniquely incorporates both coordinate accuracy analysis and environmental analysis of occurrence records. Furthermore, it provides a hierarchical structure to incorporate future tests yet to be developed.Main conclusionsoccTest will help users understand the quality and quantity of data available before the start of data analysis, while also enabling users to filter data using either predefined rules or custom‐built rules. As a result, occTest can better assess each record's appropriateness for its intended application.

Anest, A., Y. Bouchenak-Khelladi, T. Charles-Dominique, F. Forest, Y. Caraglio, G. P. Hempson, O. Maurin, and K. W. Tomlinson. 2024. Blocking then stinging as a case of two-step evolution of defensive cage architectures in herbivore-driven ecosystems. Nature Plants.

Dense branching and spines are common features of plant species in ecosystems with high mammalian herbivory pressure. While dense branching and spines can inhibit herbivory independently, when combined, they form a powerful defensive cage architecture. However, how cage architecture evolved under mammalian pressure has remained unexplored. Here we show how dense branching and spines emerged during the age of mammalian radiation in the Combretaceae family and diversified in herbivore-driven ecosystems in the tropics. Phylogenetic comparative methods revealed that modern plant architectural strategies defending against large mammals evolved via a stepwise process. First, dense branching emerged under intermediate herbivory pressure, followed by the acquisition of spines that supported higher speciation rates under high herbivory pressure. Our study highlights the adaptive value of dense branching as part of a herbivore defence strategy and identifies large mammal herbivory as a major selective force shaping the whole plant architecture of woody plants. This study explores the evolution of two traits, branching density and spine presence, in the globally distributed plant family Combretaceae. These traits were found to have appeared in a two-step process in response to mammalian herbivory pressure, revealing the importance of large mammals in the evolution of plant architecture diversity.

Freire-Fierro, A., F. Forest, D. S. Devey, J. F. B. Pastore, J. W. Horn, X.-J. Ge, Z. Wang, et al. 2023. Monnina (Polygalaceae), a New World monophyletic genus full of contrasts. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society.

Endemic to the Neotropics, Monnina is the second largest genus of Polygalaceae, yet little is known about its phylogenetic history, biogeography, and morphological character evolution. To address these knowledge gaps, we conducted Bayesian and maximum likelihood (ML) analyses of nuclear ITS and plastid trnL–F regions to test the monophyly of Monnina s.l. We used this phylogenetic framework to (i) infer divergence time estimates of lineages within the genus and reconstruct their historical biogeography; (ii) reconstruct the evolution of morphological characters of putative ecological and evolutionary importance in Monnina; and (iii) test for correlations between our phylogenetic hypothesis and environmental data. Our results reveal that Monnina is monophyletic with an indehiscent, 1–2-seeded fruit as a synapomorphy for the genus. We identify six clades within Monnina based on our combined phylogenetic results: Clades A, B, and D are primarily distributed in southern and eastern South America, Clades C and E are primarily Central Andean, and Clade F is chiefly distributed in the Northern Andes and Central America. The ancestor of the Monnina stem lineage dispersed from Australia/Africa to South America during the late Eocene to early Oligocene. The divergences of major lineages within the genus began in the early Miocene. We inferred the most recent common ancestor of Monnina to be an herbaceous plant with one-seeded samaroid fruits. The origins of fleshy fruits and shrubby habits are phylogenetically correlated within Monnina, and their concerted convergent evolution may have promoted increased net diversification rates in the two most species-rich subclades of the genus.

Maurin, O., A. Anest, F. Forest, I. Turner, R. L. Barrett, R. C. Cowan, L. Wang, et al. 2023. Drift in the tropics: Phylogenetics and biogeographical patterns in Combretaceae. Global Ecology and Biogeography.

Aim The aim of this study was to further advance our understanding of the species-rich, and ecologically important angiosperm family Combretaceae to provide new insights into their evolutionary history. We assessed phylogenetic relationships in the family using target capture data and produced a dated phylogenetic tree to assess fruit dispersal modes and patterns of distribution. Location Tropical and subtropical regions. Time Period Cretaceous to present. Major Taxa Studied Family Combretaceae is a member of the rosid clade and comprises 10 genera and more than 500 species, predominantly assigned to genera Combretum and Terminalia, and occurring on all continents and in a wide range of ecosystems. Methods We use a target capture approach and the Angiosperms353 universal probes to reconstruct a robust dated phylogenetic tree for the family. This phylogenetic framework, combined with seed dispersal traits, biome data and biogeographic ranges, allows the reconstruction of the biogeographical history of the group. Results Ancestral range reconstructions suggest a Gondwanan origin (Africa/South America), with several intercontinental dispersals within the family and few transitions between biomes. Relative abundance of fruit dispersal types differed by both continent and biome. However, intercontinental colonizations were only significantly enhanced by water dispersal (drift fruit), and there was no evidence that seed dispersal modes influenced biome shifts. Main Conclusions Our analysis reveals a paradox as drift fruit greatly enhanced dispersal distances at intercontinental scale but did not affect the strong biome conservatism observed.

Kor, L., and M. Diazgranados. 2023. Identifying important plant areas for useful plant species in Colombia. Biological Conservation 284: 110187.

While area-based approaches continue to dominate biodiversity conservation, there is growing recognition of the importance of the human dimensions of biodiversity. We applied the Important Plant Areas (IPA) approach in Colombia to identify key sites for the conservation of plant species with reported human uses. Drawing on the Checklist of Useful Plants of Colombia, we collated 1,045,889 clean occurrence records for 5400 native species from global data repositories and digitized herbaria. Through analysis based on regionalized grid cells, we identified 980 sites meeting IPA thresholds. These are primarily located in forest habitats, with only 19.8 % within existing national natural parks or internationally designated conservation areas. Grid cells were transformed to polygons based on overlapping ecosystems and administrative boundaries to form more meaningful site boundaries. A subsequent two-stage ranking procedure based on conservation value and richness found 46 sites to be of high priority, with 10 selected as top priorities for further investigation and conservation action. These 10 sites support significant populations of 33 threatened useful plant species and represent six of the 13 bioregions of Colombia in just 0.27 % of its land area. To progress from potential to confirmed IPAs, targeted fieldwork is required alongside stakeholder engagement and consultation, crucially involving local resource users. As a megadiverse country ranked second in the world for its botanical richness, effective IPA management would not only contribute to Colombian targets for sustainable development and conservation but would also support global targets to recover biodiversity for both planet and people.

Hill, A., M. F. T. Jiménez, N. Chazot, C. Cássia‐Silva, S. Faurby, L. Herrera‐Alsina, and C. D. Bacon. 2023. Apparent effect of range size and fruit colour on palm diversification may be spurious. Journal of Biogeography.

Aim Fruit selection by animal dispersers with different mobility directly impacts plant geographical range size, which, in turn, may impact plant diversification. Here, we examine the interaction between fruit colour, range size and diversification rate in palms by testing two hypotheses: (1) species with fruit colours attractive to birds have larger range sizes due to high dispersal ability and (2) disperser mobility affects whether small or large range size has higher diversification, and intermediate range size is expected to lead to the highest diversification rate regardless of disperser. Location Global. Time Period Contemporary (or present). Major Taxa Studied Palms (Arecaceae). Methods Palm species were grouped based on likely animal disperser group for given fruit colours. Range sizes were estimated by constructing alpha convex hull polygons from distribution data. We examined disperser group, range size or an interaction of both as possible drivers of change in diversification rate over time in a likelihood dynamic model (Several Examined State-dependent Speciation and Extinction [SecSSE]). Models were fitted, rate estimates were retrieved and likelihoods were compared to those of appropriate null models. Results Species with fruit colours associated with mammal dispersal had larger ranges than those with colours associated with bird dispersal. The best fitting SecSSE models indicated that the examined traits were not the primary driver of the heterogeneity in diversification rates in the model. Extinction rate complexity had a marked impact on model performance and on diversification rates. Main Conclusions Two traits related to dispersal mobility, range size and fruit colour, were not identified as the main drivers of diversification in palms. Increased model extinction rate complexity led to better performing models, which indicates that net diversification should be estimated rather than speciation alone. However, increased complexity may lead to incorrect SecSSE model conclusions without careful consideration. Finally, we find palms with more mobile dispersers do not have larger range sizes, meaning other factors are more important determinants of range size.

Reichgelt, T., A. Baumgartner, R. Feng, and D. A. Willard. 2023. Poleward amplification, seasonal rainfall and forest heterogeneity in the Miocene of the eastern USA. Global and Planetary Change 222: 104073.

Paleoclimate reconstructions can provide a window into the environmental conditions in Earth history when atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations were higher than today. In the eastern USA, paleoclimate reconstructions are sparse, because terrestrial sedimentary deposits are rare. Despite this, the eastern USA has the largest population and population density in North America, and understanding the effects of current and future climate change is of vital importance. Here, we provide terrestrial paleoclimate reconstructions of the eastern USA from Miocene fossil floras. Additionally, we compare proxy paleoclimate reconstructions from the warmest period in the Miocene, the Miocene Climatic Optimum (MCO), to those of an MCO Earth System Model. Reconstructed Miocene temperatures and precipitation north of 35°N are higher than modern. In contrast, south of 35°N, temperatures and precipitation are similar to today, suggesting a poleward amplification effect in eastern North America. Reconstructed Miocene rainfall seasonality was predominantly higher than modern, regardless of latitude, indicating greater variability in intra-annual moisture transport. Reconstructed climates are almost uniformly in the temperate seasonal forest biome, but heterogeneity of specific forest types is evident. Reconstructed Miocene terrestrial temperatures from the eastern USA are lower than modeled temperatures and coeval Atlantic sea surface temperatures. However, reconstructed rainfall is consistent with modeled rainfall. Our results show that during the Miocene, climate was most different from modern in the northeastern states, and may suggest a drastic reduction in the meridional temperature gradient along the North American east coast compared to today.

Gómez Díaz, J. A., A. Lira-Noriega, and F. Villalobos. 2023. Expanding protected areas in a Neotropical hotspot. International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology: 1–15.

The region of central Veracruz is considered a biodiversity hotspot due to its high species richness and environmental heterogeneity, but only 2% of this region is currently protected. This study aimed to assess the current protected area system’s effectiveness and to identify priority conservation areas for expanding the existing protected area system. We used the distribution models of 1186 species from three kingdoms (Animalia, Plantae, and Fungi) together with ZONATION software, a conservation planning tool, to determine areas that could help expand the current network of protected areas. We applied three different parametrizations (including only species, using the boundary quality penalty, and using corridor connectivity). We found that protecting an additional 15% of the area would increase, between 16.2% and 19.3%, the protection of the distribution area of all species. We propose that the regions with a consensus of the three parametrizations should be declared as new protected areas to expand 374 km2 to the 216 km2 already protected. Doing so would double the protected surface in central Veracruz. The priority areas identified in this study have more species richness, carbon stock values, natural vegetation cover, and less human impact index than the existing protected areas. If our identified priority areas are declared protected, we could expect a future recovery of endangered species populations for Veracruz. The proposed new protected areas are planned and designed as corridors connecting currently isolated protected areas to promote biodiversity protection.

Campbell, L. C. E., E. T. Kiers, and G. Chomicki. 2022. The evolution of plant cultivation by ants. Trends in Plant Science.

Outside humans, true agriculture was previously thought to be restricted to social insects farming fungus. However, obligate farming of plants by ants was recently discovered in Fiji, prompting a re-examination of plant cultivation by ants. Here, we generate a database of plant cultivation by ants, identify three main types, and show that these interactions evolved primarily for shelter rather than food. We find that plant cultivation evolved at least 65 times independently for crops (~200 plant species), and 15 times in farmer lineages (~37 ant taxa) in the Neotropics and Asia/Australasia. Because of their high evolutionary replication, and variation in partner dependence, these systems are powerful models to unveil the steps in the evolution and ecology of insect agriculture.

Clark, R. P., K.-W. Jiang, and E. Gagnon. 2022. Reinstatement of Ticanto (Leguminosae-Caesalpinioideae) – the final piece in the Caesalpinia group puzzle. PhytoKeys 205: 59–98.

A recent molecular phylogenetic analysis of the Caesalpinia group demonstrated that it comprises 26 genera, but the recognition of a putative 27th genus, Ticanto, remained in doubt. This study presents a phylogenetic analysis of ITS and five plastid loci revealing a robustly supported monophyletic group representing the Ticanto clade, sister to the morphologically distinct genus Pterolobium. Based upon this evidence, along with a morphological evaluation, the genus Ticanto is here reinstated. Descriptions are provided for all nine species of Ticanto, together with a key to the species, maps, and colour photographs. Nine new combinations are made: Ticantocaesia (Hand.-Mazz.) R. Clark & Gagnon, T.crista (L.) R. Clark & Gagnon, T.elliptifolia (S. J. Li, Z. Y. Chen & D. X. Zhang) R. Clark & Gagnon, T.magnifoliolata (Metcalf) R. Clark & Gagnon, T.rhombifolia R. Clark & Gagnon, T.sinensis (Hemsl.) R. Clark & Gagnon, T.szechuenensis (Craib) R. Clark & Gagnon, T.vernalis (Champion ex Benth.) R. Clark & Gagnon and T.yunnanensis (S. J. Li, D. X. Zhang & Z.Y. Chen) R. Clark & Gagnon. The final major question in the delimitation of segregate genera from within Caesalpiniasensu lato and the Caesalpinia group is thus resolved.