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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.

Prochazka, L. S., S. Alcantara, J. G. Rando, T. Vasconcelos, R. C. Pizzardo, and A. Nogueira. 2024. Resource availability and disturbance frequency shape evolution of plant life forms in Neotropical habitats. New Phytologist.

Organisms use diverse strategies to thrive in varying habitats. While life history theory partly explains these relationships, the combined impact of resource availability and disturbance frequency on life form strategy evolution has received limited attention.We use Chamaecrista species, a legume plant lineage with a high diversity of plant life forms in the Neotropics, and employ ecological niche modeling and comparative phylogenetic methods to examine the correlated evolution of plant life forms and environmental niches.Chamaephytes and phanerophytes have optima in environments characterized by moderate water and nutrient availability coupled with infrequent fire disturbances. By contrast, annual plants thrive in environments with scarce water and nutrients, alongside frequent fire disturbances. Similarly, geophyte species also show increased resistance to frequent fire disturbances, although they thrive in resource‐rich environments.Our findings shed light on the evolution of plant strategies along environmental gradients, highlighting that annuals and geophytes respond differently to high incidences of fire disturbances, with one enduring it as seeds in a resource‐limited habitat and the other relying on reserves and root resprouting systems in resource‐abundant habitats. Furthermore, it deepens our understanding of how organisms evolve associated with their habitats, emphasizing a constraint posed by low‐resource and high‐disturbance environments.

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.

Luza, A. L., A. V. Rodrigues, L. Mamalis, and V. Zulian. 2023. Spatial distribution of the greater rhea, Rhea americana (Linnaeus, 1758), in Rio Grande do Sul, southern Brazil: citizen-science data, probabilistic mapping, and comparison with expert knowledge. Ornithology Research.

The popularization of citizen-science platforms has increased the amount of data available in a fine spatial and temporal resolution, which can be used to fill distribution knowledge gaps through probabilistic maps. In this study, we gathered expert-based information and used species distribution models to produce two independent maps of the greater rhea ( Rhea americana , Rheiformes, Rheidae) distribution in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. We integrated municipality level detection/non-detection data from five citizen-science datasets into a Bayesian site occupancy model, accounting for false negatives, sampling effort, habitat covariates, and spatial autocorrelation. We addressed whether habitat (grassland and crop field cover, number of rural properties) and spatial autocorrelation explains the realized occurrence of the species and compared model-based and expert-based occurrence maps. The mean estimated percentage of occupied municipalities was 48% (239 out of 497 municipalities), whereas experts declared 21% of the municipalities (103) as occupied by the species. While both mapping approaches showed greater rhea presence in most municipalities of the Pampa biome, they disagreed in the majority of the municipalities in the Atlantic Forest, where more fieldwork must be undertaken. The greater rhea distribution was exclusively explained by the spatial autocorrelation component, suggesting that the species expanded its distribution towards the north of the state, reaching the Atlantic Forest, following deforestation and agriculture expansion.

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.

Richard-Bollans, A., C. Aitken, A. Antonelli, C. Bitencourt, D. Goyder, E. Lucas, I. Ondo, et al. 2023. Machine learning enhances prediction of plants as potential sources of antimalarials. Frontiers in Plant Science 14.

Plants are a rich source of bioactive compounds and a number of plant-derived antiplasmodial compounds have been developed into pharmaceutical drugs for the prevention and treatment of malaria, a major public health challenge. However, identifying plants with antiplasmodial potential can be time-consuming and costly. One approach for selecting plants to investigate is based on ethnobotanical knowledge which, though having provided some major successes, is restricted to a relatively small group of plant species. Machine learning, incorporating ethnobotanical and plant trait data, provides a promising approach to improve the identification of antiplasmodial plants and accelerate the search for new plant-derived antiplasmodial compounds. In this paper we present a novel dataset on antiplasmodial activity for three flowering plant families – Apocynaceae, Loganiaceae and Rubiaceae (together comprising c. 21,100 species) – and demonstrate the ability of machine learning algorithms to predict the antiplasmodial potential of plant species. We evaluate the predictive capability of a variety of algorithms – Support Vector Machines, Logistic Regression, Gradient Boosted Trees and Bayesian Neural Networks – and compare these to two ethnobotanical selection approaches – based on usage as an antimalarial and general usage as a medicine. We evaluate the approaches using the given data and when the given samples are reweighted to correct for sampling biases. In both evaluation settings each of the machine learning models have a higher precision than the ethnobotanical approaches. In the bias-corrected scenario, the Support Vector classifier performs best – attaining a mean precision of 0.67 compared to the best performing ethnobotanical approach with a mean precision of 0.46. We also use the bias correction method and the Support Vector classifier to estimate the potential of plants to provide novel antiplasmodial compounds. We estimate that 7677 species in Apocynaceae, Loganiaceae and Rubiaceae warrant further investigation and that at least 1300 active antiplasmodial species are highly unlikely to be investigated by conventional approaches. While traditional and Indigenous knowledge remains vital to our understanding of people-plant relationships and an invaluable source of information, these results indicate a vast and relatively untapped source in the search for new plant-derived antiplasmodial compounds.

Jiménez-López, D. A., M. J. Carmona-Higuita, G. Mendieta-Leiva, R. Martínez-Camilo, A. Espejo-Serna, T. Krömer, N. Martínez-Meléndez, and N. Ramírez-Marcial. 2023. Linking different resources to recognize vascular epiphyte richness and distribution in a mountain system in southeastern Mexico. Flora: 152261.

Mesoamerican mountains are important centers of endemism and diversity of epiphytes. The Sierra Madre of Chiapas in southeastern Mexico is a mountainous region of great ecological interest due to its high biological richness. We present the first checklist of epiphytes for this region based on a compilation of various information sources. In addition, we determined the conservation status for each species based on the Mexican Official Standard (NOM-059-SEMARNAT-2010), endemism based on geopolitical boundaries, spatial completeness with inventory completeness index, richness distribution with range maps, and the relationship between climatic variables (temperature and rainfall) with species richness using generalized additive models. Our dataset includes 9,799 records collected between 1896-2017. Our checklist includes 708 epiphytes within 160 genera and 26 families; the most species-rich family was Orchidaceae (355 species), followed by Bromeliaceae (82) and Polypodiaceae (79). There were 74 species within a category of risk and 59 species considered endemic. Completeness of epiphyte richness suggests that sampling is still largely incomplete, particularly in the lower parts of the mountain system. Species and family range maps show the highest richness at high elevations, while geographically richness increases towards the southeast. Epiphyte richness increases with increased rainfall, although a unimodal pattern was observed along the temperature gradient with a species richness peak between 16-20 C°. The Sierra Madre of Chiapas forms a refuge to more than 40% of all epiphytes reported for Mexico and its existing network of protected areas overlaps with the greatest epiphyte richness.

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.

D’Apolito, C., B. Tacoronte Gomes, F. P. R. Leite, and S. A. Ferreira Da Silva-Caminha. 2022. Fossil Parkia R.Br. (Fabaceae) pollen from the Miocene of western Amazonia. Grana: 1–20.

The legume genus Parkia R.Br. has a pantropical distribution and centre of diversity in the Amazon. The molecular phylogeny of the group indicates a Neotropical origin in the Amazon biome during the Miocene, and habitat reconstruction points to terra firme (unflooded) forests. We examined recently described fossil pollen from the Miocene Solimões Formation in western Brazilian Amazonia attributed to this genus. Aiming to establish an infra-generic affinity, comparisons were performed between fossil pollen of Parkiidites marileae Leite and pollen from extant Parkia species using morphological characters and multivariate analyses. Parkiidites marileae is characterised by large and globose polyads, the polyads are composed of 16 monads, and the monads have a verrucate ornamentation. Analyses suggest two well-defined groups, a non-NLR (nearest living relative) group composed of P. decussata, P. gigantocarpa, P. velutina, P. panurensis, P. platycephala, P. pendula, P. multijuga, and P. ulei; and a NLR group composed of P. cachimboensis, P. discolor, P. igneiflora, P. lutea, and P. nitida. All species of the NLR group belong to the same clade, with a molecular age estimated at ∼12.8 million years, which is virtually the same age as interpreted for the first occurrence of P. marileae in the Solimões Formation. The late Middle to Late Miocene in western Amazonia was a time of gradual change from vast wetlands to more river-dominated landscapes that favoured unflooded forests where Parkia diversified and is distributed today.

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.