Science Enabled by Specimen Data

ter Huurne, M. B., L. J. Potgieter, C. Botella, and D. M. Richardson. 2023. Melaleuca (Myrtaceae): Biogeography of an important genus of trees and shrubs in a changing world. South African Journal of Botany 162: 230–244.

The number of naturalised and invasive woody plant species has increased rapidly in recent decades. Despite the increasing interest in tree and shrub invasions, little is known about the invasion ecology of most species. This paper explores the global movement of species in the genus Melaleuca (Myrtaceae; here including the genus Callistemon). We assess the global introduction history, distribution and biogeographic status of the genus. Various global species occurrence databases, citizen science (iNaturalist), and the literature were used.Seventy-two species [out of 386 Melaleuca species; 19%] have been introduced to at least 125 regions outside their native range. The main regions of global Melaleuca introductions are Southeast Asia, the southern parts of North America, south-eastern South America, southern Africa and Europe. The earliest record of a Melaleuca species outside of the native range of the genus is 1789. First records of Melaleuca species outside their native range were most commonly recorded in the 1960s, with records from all over the world. The main reasons for Melaleuca introductions were for use in the tea tree (pharmaceutical value) and ornamental horticulture industries. Melaleuca introductions, naturalizations and invasions are recent compared to many other woody plant taxa. Experiences in Florida and South Africa highlight the potential of Melaleuca species to spread rapidly and have significant ecological impacts. It is likely that the accumulating invasion debt will result in further naturalization and invasion of Melaleuca species in the future.

Rodríguez-Merino, A. 2023. Identifying and Managing Areas under Threat in the Iberian Peninsula: An Invasion Risk Atlas for Non-Native Aquatic Plant Species as a Potential Tool. Plants 12: 3069.

Predicting the likelihood that non-native species will be introduced into new areas remains one of conservation’s greatest challenges and, consequently, it is necessary to adopt adequate management measures to mitigate the effects of future biological invasions. At present, not much information is available on the areas in which non-native aquatic plant species could establish themselves in the Iberian Peninsula. Species distribution models were used to predict the potential invasion risk of (1) non-native aquatic plant species already established in the peninsula (32 species) and (2) those with the potential to invade the peninsula (40 species). The results revealed that the Iberian Peninsula contains a number of areas capable of hosting non-native aquatic plant species. Areas under anthropogenic pressure are at the greatest risk of invasion, and the variable most related to invasion risk is temperature. The results of this work were used to create the Invasion Risk Atlas for Alien Aquatic Plants in the Iberian Peninsula, a novel online resource that provides information about the potential distribution of non-native aquatic plant species. The atlas and this article are intended to serve as reference tools for the development of public policies, management regimes, and control strategies aimed at the prevention, mitigation, and eradication of non-native aquatic plant species.

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.

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.

Huang, T., J. Chen, K. E. Hummer, L. A. Alice, W. Wang, Y. He, S. Yu, et al. 2023. Phylogeny of Rubus (Rosaceae): Integrating molecular and morphological evidence into an infrageneric revision. TAXON.

Rubus (Rosaceae), one of the most complicated angiosperm genera, contains about 863 species, and is notorious for its taxonomic difficulty. The most recent (1910–1914) global taxonomic treatment of the genus was conducted by Focke, who defined 12 subgenera. Phylogenetic results over the past 25 years suggest that Focke's subdivisions of Rubus are not monophyletic, and large‐scale taxonomic revisions are necessary. Our objective was to provide a comprehensive phylogenetic analysis of the genus based on an integrative evidence approach. Morphological characters, obtained from our own investigation of living plants and examination of herbarium specimens are combined with chloroplast genomic data. Our dataset comprised 196 accessions representing 145 Rubus species (including cultivars and hybrids) and all of Focke's subgenera, including 60 endemic Chinese species. Maximum likelihood analyses inferred phylogenetic relationships. Our analyses concur with previous molecular studies, but with modifications. Our data strongly support the reclassification of several subgenera within Rubus. Our molecular analyses agree with others that only R. subg. Anoplobatus forms a monophyletic group. Other subgenera are para‐ or polyphyletic. We suggest a revised subgeneric framework to accommodate monophyletic groups. Character evolution is reconstructed, and diagnostic morphological characters for different clades are identified and discussed. Based on morphological and molecular evidence, we propose a new classification system with 10 subgenera: R. subg. Anoplobatus, R. subg. Batothamnus, R. subg. Chamaerubus, R. subg. Cylactis, R. subg. Dalibarda, R. subg. Idaeobatus, R. subg. Lineati, R. subg. Malachobatus, R. subg. Melanobatus, and R. subg. Rubus. The revised infrageneric nomenclature inferred from our analyses is provided along with synonymy and type citations. Our new taxonomic backbone is the first systematic and complete global revision of Rubus since Focke's treatment. It offers new insights into deep phylogenetic relationships of Rubus and has important theoretical and practical significance for the development and utilization of these important agronomic crops.

Silva, C. P., D. N. López, P. I. Naulin, and S. A. Estay. 2023. Can suitability indices predict plant growth in the invaded range? The case of Acacias species. Frontiers in Plant Science 14.

IntroductionForestry in many parts of the world depends on exotic species, making this industry a source of invasions in some countries. Among others, plantations of the genus Pinus, Eucalyptus, Acacia, Populus, and Pseudotsuga underpin the forestry industry and are a vital component of many countries economies. Among woody plants, the cosmopolitan genus Acacia includes some of the most commonly planted trees worldwide. In order to prevent, manage and control invasive plant species, one of the most used tools is species distribution models. The output of these models can also be used to obtain information about population characteristics, such as spatial abundance patterns or species performance. Although ecological theory suggests a direct link between fitness and suitability, this link is often absent. The reasons behind the lack of this relationship are multiple. Chile is one of the countries where Acacia species, in particular, A. dealbata and A. melanoxylon, have become invaders. MethodsHere, we used climatic and edaphic variables to predict thepotentially suitable habitats for A. dealbata and A. melanoxylon in continental Chile and evaluate if the suitability indices obtained from these models are associated with the observed performance of the trees along the country. ResultsOur models show that variable importance showed significant similarities between the variables that characterize each species’ niche. However, despite the high accuracy of our models, we did not observe an association between suitability and tree growth.DiscussionThis disconnection between suitability and performance can result from multiple causes, from structural limitations, like the lack of biotic interactions in the models, to methodological issues, like the usefulness of the performance metric used. Whatever the scenario, our results suggest that plans to control invasive species should be cautious in assuming this relationship in their design and consider other indicators such as species establishment success.

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.

Marcussen, T., H. E. Ballard, J. Danihelka, A. R. Flores, M. V. Nicola, and J. M. Watson. 2022. A Revised Phylogenetic Classification for Viola (Violaceae). Plants 11: 2224.

The genus Viola (Violaceae) is among the 40–50 largest genera among angiosperms, yet its taxonomy has not been revised for nearly a century. In the most recent revision, by Wilhelm Becker in 1925, the then-known 400 species were distributed among 14 sections and numerous unranked groups. Here, we provide an updated, comprehensive classification of the genus, based on data from phylogeny, morphology, chromosome counts, and ploidy, and based on modern principles of monophyly. The revision is presented as an annotated global checklist of accepted species of Viola, an updated multigene phylogenetic network and an ITS phylogeny with denser taxon sampling, a brief summary of the taxonomic changes from Becker’s classification and their justification, a morphological binary key to the accepted subgenera, sections and subsections, and an account of each infrageneric subdivision with justifications for delimitation and rank including a description, a list of apomorphies, molecular phylogenies where possible or relevant, a distribution map, and a list of included species. We distribute the 664 species accepted by us into 2 subgenera, 31 sections, and 20 subsections. We erect one new subgenus of Viola (subg. Neoandinium, a replacement name for the illegitimate subg. Andinium), six new sections (sect. Abyssinium, sect. Himalayum, sect. Melvio, sect. Nematocaulon, sect. Spathulidium, sect. Xanthidium), and seven new subsections (subsect. Australasiaticae, subsect. Bulbosae, subsect. Clausenianae, subsect. Cleistogamae, subsect. Dispares, subsect. Formosanae, subsect. Pseudorupestres). Evolution within the genus is discussed in light of biogeography, the fossil record, morphology, and particular traits. Viola is among very few temperate and widespread genera that originated in South America. The biggest identified knowledge gaps for Viola concern the South American taxa, for which basic knowledge from phylogeny, chromosome counts, and fossil data is virtually absent. Viola has also never been subject to comprehensive anatomical study. Studies into seed anatomy and morphology are required to understand the fossil record of the genus.

To clarify biogeographic patterns of two mushroom species (Phallus merulinus and Geastrum courtecuissei) previously reported from Myanmar, sequence data of the internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region of nuclear ribosomal DNA were retrieved from GenBank. The BLAST search and phylogenetic analyses of Phallus indicated that P. merulinus and P. atrovolvatus from wide areas, including Australia, Myanmar, Thailand, Brazil, and French Guiana, cannot be distinguished molecularly. The species was, therefore, considered widespread across tropical to subtropical regions. In contrast, G. courtecuissei from Myanmar was tightly clustered exclusively with G. courtecuissei from Central and South America, supporting the idea of its disjunct distribution between Southeast Asia (Myanmar) and Central-South Americas.

Colli-Silva, M., J. R. Pirani, and A. Zizka. 2022. Ecological niche models and point distribution data reveal a differential coverage of the cacao relatives (Malvaceae) in South American protected areas. Ecological Informatics 69: 101668.

For many regions, such as in South America, it is unclear how well the existent protected areas network (PAs) covers different taxonomic groups and if there is a coverage bias of PAs towards certain biomes or species. Publicly available occurrence data along with ecological niche models might help to overcome this gap and to quantify the coverage of taxa by PAs ensuring an unbiased distribution of conservation effort. Here, we use an occurrence database of 271 species from the cacao family (Malvaceae) to address how South American PAs cover species with different distribution, abundance, and threat status. Furthermore, we compared the performance of online databases, expert knowledge, and modelled species distributions in estimating species coverage in PAs. We found 79 species from our survey (29% of the total) lack any record inside South American PAs and that 20 out of 23 species potentially threatened with extinction are not covered by PAs. The area covered by South American PAs was low across biomes, except for Amazonia, which had a relative high PA coverage, but little information on species distribution within PA available. Also, raw geo-referenced occurrence data were underestimating the number of species in PAs, and projections from ecological niche models were more prone to overestimating the number of species represented within PAs. We discuss that the protection of South American flora in heterogeneous environments demand for specific strategies tailored to particular biomes, including making new collections inside PAs in less collected areas, and the delimitation of more areas for protection in more known areas. Also, by presenting biasing scenarios of collection effort in a representative plant group, our results can benefit policy makers in conserving different spots of tropical environments highly biodiverse.