Science Enabled by Specimen Data

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.

Ract, C., N. D. Burgess, L. Dinesen, P. Sumbi, I. Malugu, J. Latham, L. Anderson, et al. 2024. Nature Forest Reserves in Tanzania and their importance for conservation S. S. Romanach [ed.],. PLOS ONE 19: e0281408.

Since 1997 Tanzania has undertaken a process to identify and declare a network of Nature Forest Reserves (NFRs) with high biodiversity values, from within its existing portfolio of national Forest Reserves, with 16 new NFRs declared since 2015. The current network of 22 gazetted NFRs covered 948,871 hectares in 2023. NFRs now cover a range of Tanzanian habitat types, including all main forest types—wet, seasonal, and dry—as well as wetlands and grasslands. NFRs contain at least 178 of Tanzania’s 242 endemic vertebrate species, of which at least 50% are threatened with extinction, and 553 Tanzanian endemic plant taxa (species, subspecies, and varieties), of which at least 50% are threatened. NFRs also support 41 single-site endemic vertebrate species and 76 single-site endemic plant taxa. Time series analysis of management effectiveness tracking tool (METT) data shows that NFR management effectiveness is increasing, especially where donor funds have been available. Improved management and investment have resulted in measurable reductions of some critical threats in NFRs. Still, ongoing challenges remain to fully contain issues of illegal logging, charcoal production, firewood, pole-cutting, illegal hunting and snaring of birds and mammals, fire, wildlife trade, and the unpredictable impacts of climate change. Increased tourism, diversified revenue generation and investment schemes, involving communities in management, and stepping up control measures for remaining threats are all required to create a network of economically self-sustaining NFRs able to conserve critical biodiversity values.

Karimi, N., and M. M. Hanes. 2024. Patterns of Grewia (Malvaceae) diversity across geographic scales in Africa and Madagascar. Annals of Botany.

Background and aims Quantifying spatial species richness is useful to describe biodiversity patterns across broad geographic areas, especially in large, poorly known plant groups. We explore patterns and predictors of species richness across Africa in one such group; the paleotropical genus Grewia L. (Malvaceae). Methods Grewia species richness was quantified by extracting herbarium records from GBIF and Tropicos and creating geographic grids at varying spatial scales. We assessed predictors of species richness using spatial regression models with 30 environmental variables. We explored species co-occurrence in Madagascar at finer resolutions using Schoener's index, and compared species’ range sizes and IUCN status among ecoregions. Lastly, we derived a trait matrix for a subset of species found in Madagascar to characterize morphological diversity across space. Key Results Grewia species occur in 50 countries in Africa, with the highest number of species in Madagascar (93, with 80 species endemic). Species richness is highest in Madagascar, with up to 23 Grewia species in a grid cell, followed by coastal Tanzania/Kenya (up to 13 species), and northern South Africa and central Angola (11 species each). Across Africa, higher species richness was predicted by variables related to aridity. In Madagascar, a greater range in environmental variables best predicted species richness, consistent with geographic grid cells of highest species richness occurring near biome/ecoregion transitions. In Madagascar we also observe increasing dissimilarity in species composition with increasing geographic distance. Conclusions The spatial patterns and underlying environmental predictors that we uncover in Grewia represent an important step in our understanding of plant distribution and diversity patterns across Africa. Madagascar boasts nearly twice the Grewia species richness, compared to the second most species-rich country in Africa, which might be explained by complex topography and environmental conditions across small spatial scales.

Munna, A. H., N. A. Amuri, P. Hieronimo, and D. A. Woiso. 2023. Modelling ecological niches of Sclerocarya birrea subspecies in Tanzania under the current and future climates. Silva Fennica 57.

The information on ecological niches of the Marula tree, Sclerocarya birrea (A. Rich.) Horchst. subspecies are needed for sustainable management of this tree, considering its nutritional, economic, and ecological benefits. However, despite Tanzania being regarded as a global genetic center of diversity of S. birrea, information on the subspecies ecological niches is lacking. We aimed to model ecological niches of S. birrea subspecies in Tanzania under the current and future climates. Ecological niches under the current climate were modelled by using ecological niche models in MaxEnt using climatic, edaphic, and topographical variables, and subspecies occurrence data. The Hadley Climate Center and National Center for Atmospheric Research's Earth System Models were used to predict ecological niches under the medium and high greenhouse gases emission scenarios for the years 2050 and 2080. Area under the curves (AUCs) were used to assess the accuracy of the models. The results show that the models were robust, with AUCs of 0.85–0.95. Annual and seasonal precipitation, elevation, and soil cation exchange capacity are the key environmental factors that define the ecological niches of the S. birrea subspecies. Ecological niches of subsp. caffra, multifoliata, and birrea are currently found in 30, 22, and 21 regions, and occupy 184 814 km2, 139 918 km2, and 28 446 km2 of Tanzania's land area respectively, which will contract by 0.4–44% due to climate change. Currently, 31–51% of ecological niches are under Tanzania’s protected areas network. The findings are important in guiding the development of conservation and domestication strategies for the S. birrea subspecies in Tanzania.

Ngarega, B. K., P. Chaibva, V. F. Masocha, J. K. Saina, P. K. Khine, and H. Schneider. 2023. Application of MaxEnt modeling to evaluate the climate change effects on the geographic distribution of Lippia javanica (Burm.f.) Spreng in Africa. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 196.

Lippia javanica is a typical indigenous plant species mostly found in the higher elevation or mountainous regions in southern, central, and eastern Africa. The ongoing utilization of the species for ethnobotanical applications and traditional uses, coupled with the changing climate, increases the risk of a potential reduction in its geographic distribution range in the region. Herein, we utilized the MaxEnt species distribution modelling to build the L. javanica distribution models in tropical and subtropical African regions for current and future climates. The MaxEnt models were calibrated and fitted using 286 occurrence records and six environmental variables. Temperatures, including temperature seasonality [Bio 4] and the maximum temperature of the warmest month [Bio 5], were observed to be the most significant determinants of L. javanica’s distribution. The current projected range for L. javanica was estimated to be 2,118,457 km 2 . Future model predictions indicated that L. javanica may increase its geographic distribution in western areas of the continent and regions around the equator; however, much of the geographic range in southern Africa may shift southwards, causing the species to lose portions of the northern limits of the habitat range. These current findings can help increase the conservation of L. javanica and other species and combat localized species loss induced by climate change and human pressure. We also emphasize the importance of more investigations and enhanced surveillance of traditionally used plant species in regions that are acutely susceptible to climate change.

de Deus Vidal, J., C. B. Schmitt, and I. Koch. 2023. Comparative richness patterns of range sizes and life forms of Apocynaceae along forest–savanna transitions in Brazil. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society.

Brazilian moist forests and savannas are some of the most species-rich biomes in the Neotropics. In the transition zones between these regions, ecotones often accumulate even higher taxonomic diversity. However, whether these ecotonal communities consist of overlapping species widespread from the neighbouring biomes or a specific set of locally adapted species still needs to be clarified. Regional differences in species richness may be influenced by factors such as species' environmental tolerances, life forms, or species’ range sizes. To investigate the species richness found in ecotones, we used the ‘milk-weed’ family (Apocynaceae), which comprises both widespread and narrowly distributed trees, lianas, and shrubs, as a model to evaluate if (i) their observed richness in ecotones is promoted by widespread species or by locally adapted species; (ii) trees, lianas, and shrubs show different richness patterns in savannas, ecotones, and forests; and (iii) species found in ecotones have broader environmental tolerances than other species in the family. We used a taxonomically curated georeferenced dataset to compare the range sizes of 643 species of Apocynaceae from 73 genera listed for Brazil, comprising 298 species with a liana life form and 345 trees, herbs, or shrubs. We recorded 335 predominantly forest species, 56 savanna species, and 152 ecotone species, for which we quantified species richness, areas of occurrence, precipitation, and temperature ranges and tested for differences in range sizes and environmental tolerances between habits and ecoregions. Our results indicate that (i) Apocynaceae species occurring in ecotones have wider geographical ranges than species not occurring in ecotones; (ii) lianas showed higher area-weighted richness in ecotones than other life forms; and (iii) species found in ecotones had broader environmental tolerances than species restricted to moist forests or savannas. These results indicate that the species richness found in ecotones between savannas and moist forests in Brazil is not necessarily a consequence of higher endemism and local adaptation but may also be a result of overlapping ranges of widespread species typically associated with neighbouring biomes. Together, our findings add to our understanding of ecotones and biomes as continuous, gradual biogeographical transitions instead of sharply defined ecological units.

Calvente, A., A. P. Alves da Silva, D. Edler, F. A. Carvalho, M. R. Fantinati, A. Zizka, and A. Antonelli. 2023. Spiny but photogenic: amateur sightings complement herbarium specimens to reveal the bioregions of cacti. American Journal of Botany.

Premise: Cacti are characteristic elements of the Neotropical flora and of major interest for biogeographic, evolutionary, and ecological studies. Here we test global biogeographic boundaries for Neotropical Cactaceae using specimen‐based occurrences coupled with data from visual observations, as a means to tackle the known collection biases in the family.MethodsSpecies richness and record density were assessed for preserved specimens and human observations and a bioregional scheme tailored to Cactaceae was produced using the interactive web application Infomap Bioregions based on data from 261,272 point records cleaned through automated and manual steps.Key ResultsWe find that areas in Mexico and southwestern USA, Eastern Brazil and along the Andean region have the greatest density of records and the highest species richness. Human observations complement information from preserved specimens substantially, especially along the Andes. We propose 24 cacti bioregions, among which the most species‐rich are: northern Mexico/southwestern USA, central Mexico, southern central Mexico, Central America, Mexican Pacific coast, central and southern Andes, northwestern Mexico/extreme southwestern USA, southwestern Bolivia, northeastern Brazil, Mexico/Baja California.ConclusionsThe bioregionalization proposed shows biogeographical boundaries specific to cacti, and can thereby aid further evolutionary, biogeographic, and ecological studies by providing a validated framework for further analyses. This classification builds upon, and is distinctive from, other expert‐derived regionalization schemes for other taxa. Our results showcase how observation data, including citizen‐science records, can complement traditional specimen‐based data for biogeographic research, particularly for taxa with specific specimen collection and preservation challenges and those that are threatened or internationally protected.This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Geier, C., J. M. Bouchal, S. Ulrich, D. Uhl, T. Wappler, S. Wedmann, R. Zetter, et al. 2023. Potential pollinators and paleoecological aspects of Eocene Ludwigia (Onagraceae) from Eckfeld, Germany. Palaeoworld.

Paleogene flower-insect interactions and paleo-pollination processes are, in general, poorly understood and fossil evidence for such floral and faunal interactions are rarely reported. To shed light on angiosperm flower-insect interactions, we investigated several hundred fossil flowers and insects from the middle Eocene Fossil Lagerstätte of Eckfeld, Germany. During our work, we discovered a unique fossil Ludwigia flower (bud) with in situ pollen. The ecological preferences (climate, biome, habitat, etc.) of extant Ludwigia and the paleoecological configurations of the fossil plant assemblage support the taxonomic affiliation of the flower bud and an Eocene presence of Ludwigia in the vicinity of the former Lake Eckfeld. Today’s Ludwigia are mostly pollinated by Hymenoptera (bees). Therefore, we screened all currently known hymenopteran fossils from Eckfeld but found no Ludwigia pollen adhering to any of the specimens. On the contrary, we discovered Ludwigia pollen adhering to two different groups of Coleoptera (beetles). Our study suggests that during the Eocene of Europe, Ludwigia flowers were visited and probably pollinated by beetles and over time there was a shift in primary flower visitors/pollinators, from beetles to bees, sometime during the late Paleogene to Neogene.

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.

Onditi, K. O., W. Song, X. Li, S. Musila, Z. Chen, Q. Li, J. Mathenge, et al. 2023. Untangling key abiotic predictors of terrestrial mammal diversity patterns across ecoregions and species groups in Kenya. Ecological Indicators 154: 110595.

Understanding the interactions between abiotic (environmental and anthropogenic) factors and species diversity and distribution patterns is fundamental to improving the ecological representativeness of biodiversity management tools such as protected areas (PAs). However, significant knowledge gaps remain about how species’ ecological and evolutionary opportunities are associated with abiotic factors, especially in biodiversity-rich but economically ill-equipped countries such as Kenya. Here, we explored the interactions of terrestrial mammal diversity patterns and abiotic factors across species groups and ecoregions in Kenya. We coupled data on terrestrial mammal occurrences, phylogeny, functional traits, and environmental predictors in Kenya to derive multiple diversity indices, encompassing species richness and phylogenetic and functional richness, and mean pairwise and nearest taxon distances. We explored the interactions of these indices with several abiotic factors using multivariate regression analyses while adjusting for spatial autocorrelation. The results showed weak correlations between species richness versus the phylogenetic and functional diversity indices. The best-fit models explained variable proportions of diversity indices between species groups and ecoregions and consistently retained annual temperature and precipitation averages and seasonality and human footprint as the strongest predictors. Compared to the species-poor xeric northern and eastern Kenya regions, the predictors had weak associations with diversity variances in the species-rich mesic western and central Kenya regions, similar to focal species groups compared to ordinal classifications and the combined species pool. These findings illustrate that climate and human footprint interplay determine multiple facets of terrestrial mammal diversity patterns in Kenya. Accordingly, curbing human activities degrading long-term climatic regimes is vital to ensuring the ecological integrity of terrestrial mammal communities and should be integrated into biodiversity management frameworks. For a holistic representation of critical conservation areas, biodiversity managements should also prioritize terrestrial mammal phylogenetic and functional attributes besides species richness.