Science Enabled by Specimen Data

Smith, A. B., S. J. Murphy, D. Henderson, and K. D. Erickson. 2023. Including imprecisely georeferenced specimens improves accuracy of species distribution models and estimates of niche breadth. Global Ecology and Biogeography.

Aim Museum and herbarium specimen records are frequently used to assess the conservation status of species and their responses to climate change. Typically, occurrences with imprecise geolocality information are discarded because they cannot be matched confidently to environmental conditions and are thus expected to increase uncertainty in downstream analyses. However, using only precisely georeferenced records risks undersampling of the environmental and geographical distributions of species. We present two related methods to allow the use of imprecisely georeferenced occurrences in biogeographical analysis. Innovation Our two procedures assign imprecise records to the (1) locations or (2) climates that are closest to the geographical or environmental centroid of the precise records of a species. For virtual species, including imprecise records alongside precise records improved the accuracy of ecological niche models projected to the present and the future, especially for species with c. 20 or fewer precise occurrences. Using only precise records underestimated loss of suitable habitat and overestimated the amount of suitable habitat in both the present and the future. Including imprecise records also improves estimates of niche breadth and extent of occurrence. An analysis of 44 species of North American Asclepias (Apocynaceae) yielded similar results. Main conclusions Existing studies examining the effects of spatial imprecision typically compare outcomes based on precise records against the same records with spatial error added to them. However, in real-world cases, analysts possess a mix of precise and imprecise records and must decide whether to retain or discard the latter. Discarding imprecise records can undersample the geographical and environmental distributions of species and lead to mis-estimation of responses to past and future climate change. Our method, for which we provide a software implementation in the enmSdmX package for R, is simple to use and can help leverage the large number of specimen records that are typically deemed “unusable” because of spatial imprecision in their geolocation.

Chiarenza, A. A., A. M. Waterson, D. N. Schmidt, P. J. Valdes, C. Yesson, P. A. Holroyd, M. E. Collinson, et al. 2022. 100 million years of turtle paleoniche dynamics enable the prediction of latitudinal range shifts in a warming world. Current Biology.

Past responses to environmental change provide vital baseline data for estimating the potential resilience of extant taxa to future change. Here, we investigate the latitudinal range contraction that terrestrial and freshwater turtles (Testudinata) experienced from the Late Cretaceous to the Paleogene (100.5–23.03 mya) in response to major climatic changes. We apply ecological niche modeling (ENM) to reconstruct turtle niches, using ancient and modern distribution data, paleogeographic reconstructions, and the HadCM3L climate model to quantify their range shifts in the Cretaceous and late Eocene. We then use the insights provided by these models to infer their probable ecological responses to future climate scenarios at different representative concentration pathways (RCPs 4.5 and 8.5 for 2100), which project globally increased temperatures and spreading arid biomes at lower to mid-latitudes. We show that turtle ranges are predicted to expand poleward in the Northern Hemisphere, with decreased habitat suitability at lower latitudes, inverting a trend of latitudinal range contraction that has been prevalent since the Eocene. Trionychids and freshwater turtles can more easily track their niches than Testudinidae and other terrestrial groups. However, habitat destruction and fragmentation at higher latitudes will probably reduce the capability of turtles and tortoises to cope with future climate changes.

Carmelet‐Rescan, D., M. Morgan‐Richards, N. Pattabiraman, and S. A. Trewick. 2022. Time‐calibrated phylogeny and ecological niche models indicate Pliocene aridification drove intraspecific diversification of brushtail possums in Australia. Ecology and Evolution 12.

Major aridification events in Australia during the Pliocene may have had significant impact on the distribution and structure of widespread species. To explore the potential impact of Pliocene and Pleistocene climate oscillations, we estimated the timing of population fragmentation and past connectivity of the currently isolated but morphologically similar subspecies of the widespread brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula). We use ecological niche modeling (ENM) with the current fragmented distribution of brushtail possums to estimate the environmental envelope of this marsupial. We projected the ENM on models of past climatic conditions in Australia to infer the potential distribution of brushtail possums over 6 million years. D‐loop haplotypes were used to describe population structure. From shotgun sequencing, we assembled whole mitochondrial DNA genomes and estimated the timing of intraspecific divergence. Our projections of ENMs suggest current possum populations were unlikely to have been in contact during the Pleistocene. Although lowered sea level during glacial periods enabled connection with habitat in Tasmania, climate fluctuation during this time would not have facilitated gene flow over much of Australia. The most recent common ancestor of sampled intraspecific diversity dates to the early Pliocene when continental aridification caused significant changes to Australian ecology and Trichosurus vulpecula distribution was likely fragmented. Phylogenetic analysis revealed that the subspecies T. v. hypoleucus (koomal; southwest), T. v. arnhemensis (langkurr; north), and T. v. vulpecula (bilda; southeast) correspond to distinct mitochondrial lineages. Despite little phenotypic differentiation, Trichosurus vulpecula populations probably experienced little gene flow with one another since the Pliocene, supporting the recognition of several subspecies and explaining their adaptations to the regional plant assemblages on which they feed.

Moreno, I., J. M. W. Gippet, L. Fumagalli, and P. J. Stephenson. 2022. Factors affecting the availability of data on East African wildlife: the monitoring needs of conservationists are not being met. Biodiversity and Conservation.

Understanding the status and abundance of species is essential for effective conservation decision-making. However, the availability of species data varies across space, taxonomic groups and data types. A case study was therefore conducted in a high biodiversity region—East Africa—to evaluate data biases, the factors influencing data availability, and the consequences for conservation. In each of the eleven target countries, priority animal species were identified as threatened species that are protected by national governments, international conventions or conservation NGOs. We assessed data gaps and biases in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility and the Living Planet Index. A survey of practitioners and decision makers was conducted to confirm and assess consequences of these biases on biodiversity conservation efforts. Our results showed data on species occurrence and population trends were available for a significantly higher proportion of vertebrates than invertebrates. We observed a geographical bias, with higher tourism income countries having more priority species and more species with data than lower tourism income countries. Conservationists surveyed felt that, of the 40 types of data investigated, those data that are most important to conservation projects are the most difficult to access. The main challenges to data accessibility are excessive expense, technological challenges, and a lack of resources to process and analyse data. With this information, practitioners and decision makers can prioritise how and where to fill gaps to improve data availability and use, and ensure biodiversity monitoring is improved and conservation impacts enhanced.

Lal, M. M., K. T. Brown, P. Chand, and T. D. Pickering. 2022. An assessment of the aquaculture potential of indigenous freshwater food fish of Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Samoa and Tonga as alternatives to farming of tilapia. Reviews in Aquaculture.

An important driver behind introductions for aquaculture of alien fish species into Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) is a lack of knowledge about domestication suitability and specific culture requirements of indigenous taxa. Introductions may be appropriate in some circumstances, but in other circumstances, the associated risks may outweigh the benefits, so greater understanding of indigenous species' aquaculture potential is important. This review summarises literature for indigenous freshwater food fish species from Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Samoa and Tonga, and evaluates their aquaculture potential for food security and/or small‐scale livelihoods. A species selection criteria incorporating economic, social, biological and environmental spheres was used to score 62 candidate species. Tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus and O. niloticus) now established in PICTs were evaluated for comparison. Results show that 13 species belonging to the families Mugilidae (Mullets), Terapontidae (Grunters), Kuhliidae (Flagtails) and Scatophagidae (Scats) have the highest culture potential according to selection criteria. These feed at a relatively low trophic level (are herbivores/detritivores), have comparatively fast growth rates and overall possess characteristics most amenable for small‐scale, inland aquaculture. The four top‐ranked candidates are all mountain mullets Cestraeus spp., followed by Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus). Lower ranked candidates include three other mullets (Planiliza melinoptera, P. subviridis and Mugil cephalus) and rock flagtail Kuhlia rupestris. Importantly, many species remain data deficient in aspects of their reproductive biology or culture performance. Species profiles and ranked priority species by country are provided with logistical, technological and environmental assessments of country capacities to culture each species.

MANCINI, F., A. O. LILLO, R. BARDELLI, S. VIZZINI, and G. MANCINELLI. 2022. Variation in the stable isotope trophic position of the bluefish Pomatomus saltatrix (Linnaeus, 1766) from two Mediterranean sites: insights from a global meta-analysis. Mediterranean Marine Science 23: 850–863.

A direct consequence of sea warming is the shift in the distribution range of thermo-tolerant species that have the potential to determine novel inter-specific interactions, ultimately altering food web structures and ecosystem processes. In this study, we investigated the trophic position of the bluefish Pomatomus saltatrix (Linnaeus, 1766), a pelagic predator that has recently expanded its distribution in the Mediterranean basin and for which scant information is available on its functional role in recently-colonised areas. Nitrogen and carbon stable isotopes were determined in muscle tissues of bluefish specimens collected in south-east Italy in the Gulf of Taranto (NW Ionian Sea) and in the Strait of Otranto (SW Adriatic Sea) at two coastal sites showing contrasting oceanographic conditions. The bluefish trophic position (TP) was estimated using locally abundant forage fish species as isotopic baselines. The results indicated for bluefish from the Strait of Otranto a TP value of 5.1, significantly higher than that determined in the Gulf of Taranto (4.2), and exceeding stomach content-based estimations reported by the online database FishBase and by literature sources. A synthesis of 30 publications reporting isotopic data for the bluefish and its potential prey at a global scale indicated that the species’ trophic position varied considerably between 2.7 and 5.2. The observed variability depended on location and on the baseline species used in the estimations. Yet, a significant difference in trophic position was observed for bluefish from transitional and inshore environments as compared with offshore areas, mirroring the results obtained from the Gulf of Taranto and the Strait of Otranto. The findings of the study highlight the high trophic plasticity characterizing the bluefish in recently colonized areas, suggesting that it may play a key role in facilitating the expansion of its distribution range. However, additional investigations are essential to provide an advanced resolution of the bluefish functional role in Mediterranean coastal food webs.

Cumer, T., A. P. Machado, F. Siverio, S. I. Cherkaoui, I. Roque, R. Lourenço, M. Charter, et al. 2022. Genomic basis of insularity and ecological divergence in barn owls (Tyto alba) of the Canary Islands. Heredity.

Islands, and the particular organisms that populate them, have long fascinated biologists. Due to their isolation, islands offer unique opportunities to study the effect of neutral and adaptive mechanisms in determining genomic and phenotypical divergence. In the Canary Islands, an archipelago rich in endemics, the barn owl ( Tyto alba ), present in all the islands, is thought to have diverged into a subspecies ( T. a. gracilirostris ) on the eastern ones, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. Taking advantage of 40 whole-genomes and modern population genomics tools, we provide the first look at the origin and genetic makeup of barn owls of this archipelago. We show that the Canaries hold diverse, long-standing and monophyletic populations with a neat distinction of gene pools from the different islands. Using a new method, less sensitive to structure than classical F ST , to detect regions involved in local adaptation to insular environments, we identified a haplotype-like region likely under selection in all Canaries individuals and genes in this region suggest morphological adaptations to insularity. In the eastern islands, where the subspecies is present, genomic traces of selection pinpoint signs of adapted body proportions and blood pressure, consistent with the smaller size of this population living in a hot arid climate. In turn, genomic regions under selection in the western barn owls from Tenerife showed an enrichment in genes linked to hypoxia, a potential response to inhabiting a small island with a marked altitudinal gradient. Our results illustrate the interplay of neutral and adaptive forces in shaping divergence and early onset speciation.

Ben Lamine, E., A. Schickele, E. Goberville, G. Beaugrand, D. Allemand, and V. Raybaud. 2022. Expected contraction in the distribution ranges of demersal fish of high economic value in the Mediterranean and European Seas. Scientific Reports 12.

Fisheries and aquaculture are facing many challenges worldwide, especially adaptation to climate change. Investigating future distributional changes of largely harvested species has become an extensive research topic, aiming at providing realistic ecological scenarios on which to build management measures, to help fisheries and aquaculture adapt to future climate-driven changes. Here, we use an ensemble modelling approach to estimate the contemporary and future distributional range of eight demersal fish species of high economic value in the Mediterranean Sea. We identify a cardinal influence of (i) temperature on fish species distributions, all being shaped by yearly mean and seasonality in sea bottom temperature, and (ii) the primary production. By assessing the effects of changes in future climate conditions under three Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP2.6, RCP4.5 and RCP8.5) scenarios over three periods of the twenty-first century, we project a contraction of the distributional range of the eight species in the Mediterranean Sea, with a general biogeographical displacement towards the North European coasts. This will help anticipating changes in future catch potential in a warmer world, which is expected to have substantial economic consequences for Mediterranean fisheries.

Hanzen, C. C., M. C. Lucas, O. L. F. Weyl, S. M. Marr, G. O’Brien, and C. T. Downs. 2022. Slippery customers for conservation: Distribution and decline of anguillid eels in South Africa. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 32: 1277–1290.

Four anguillid eel species occur in the western Indian Ocean rivers of Africa: Anguilla bengalensis, Anguilla bicolor, Anguilla marmorata and Anguilla mossambica. These catadromous fishes face multiple stressors, including habitat alteration and deterioration, barriers to migration, pollution and the adverse impacts of alien species, but knowledge of eel species occurrence, abundance and ecology in Africa remains poor.This study investigated the present and historical distribution of anguillid eels and the potential associated drivers of declines at the southern extremities of their ranges in South Africa. Data analysed included sampling conducted in KwaZulu–Natal and Eastern Cape between 2015 and 2020, and secondary data extracted from databases, museums and local management agencies.The median extent of inland penetration increased as follows: 22 km for A. bicolor, 29 km for A. marmorata, 94 km for A. bengalensis and 293 km for A. mossambica. The median altitude followed a similar pattern.Extent of occurrence analyses were carried out at the regional level in KwaZulu–Natal. The sampling data on present distribution (2015–2020), compared with historical data, suggests declines in the extents of occurrence of the four eel species in KwaZulu–Natal, ranging between 31 and 48% in the last 30 years and between 35 and 82% since the 1950s.With increasing human threats in the region, especially from watercourse modification and water abstraction, further declines for these species are expected. Conservation measures recommended include the maintenance or restoration of the ecological connectivity of important rivers and the implementation of freshwater protected areas. Although eels are at present not widely exploited in South Africa, there is a need for fisheries regulations to manage sustainable commercial exploitation.

Nekrasova, O., V. Tytar, M. Pupins, and A. Čeirāns. 2022. Range expansion of the alien red-eared slider Trachemys scripta (Thunberg in Schoepff, 1792) (Reptilia, Testudines) in Eastern Europe, with special reference to Latvia and Ukraine. BioInvasions Records 11: 287–295.

An increasing number of thermophilic invasive species are spreading and becoming naturalized in Eastern Europe, at least partially due to recent climate change. This can be exemplified by current expansion of the red-eared slider, Trachemys scripta, in Latvia and Ukraine. We collected 44 records of …