Science Enabled by Specimen Data

Raggi, L., C. Zucchini, E. Sayde, D. Gigante, and V. Negri. 2024. Priority areas for the establishment of genetic reserves to actively protect key crop wild relative species in Italy. Global Ecology and Conservation 50: e02836.

Crop Wild Relatives (CWR) are wild plant taxa genetically close to a crop. Being a precious source of genetic variability and of traits for crop improvement, CWR have a high socio-economic value and are identified among the main plant genetic resources. Alarming enough, the inter- and intraspecific diversity, as well as their habitat diversity, is under threat of irremediable loss. Italy is the second richest country in Europe in terms of plant species number; applying the taxon group concept 5712 have been recently identified as CWR. The aims of the present research are to identify the best sites for: i) the institution of genetic reserves to actively protect CWR species of the key crop genera as Allium, Brassica and Triticum and ii) performing new collection missions to reach adequate ex situ conservation of target species. Georeferenced data were retrieved from different online databases. CAPFITOGEN tools were initially used to develop an ecogeographic land characterisation map (ELC) of Italy. Geographical distribution data were assembled for 379 populations of 18 CWR taxa. Results of the complementarity analysis showed that 10 protected areas provide coverage of the 46.4% of the target conservation units and include 66.7% of the priority CWR taxa investigated. Alarming enough, only 7.4% of the 379 populations are currently conserved ex situ; among the 18 ecogeographic land characterisation categories only 3 are covered by ex situ conservation. This is the first study where most suitable protected areas for the institution of genetic reserves are proposed for Italy for the protection of multiple CWR taxa of key genera; this is relevant also considering the global value of many of the related crop such as different wheat species, cabbages, rape, garlic and onion. Being already dedicated to habitat and species conservation, the identified sites are optimal candidates for the institution of genetic reserves. Results will hopefully also guide new collecting missions that are urgently needed to strength ex situ conservation of such precious genetic resources.

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.

Mathur, M., and P. Mathur. 2024. Habitat suitability of Opuntia ficus-indica (L.) MILL. (CACTACEAE): a comparative temporal evaluation using diverse bio-climatic earth system models and ensemble machine learning approach. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 196.

A comprehensive evaluation of the habitat suitability across the India was conducted for the introduced species Opuntia ficus-indica . This assessment utilized a newly developed model called BioClimInd, takes into account five Earth System Models (ESMs). These ESMs consider two different emission scenarios known as Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP), specifically RCP 4.5 and RCP 8.5. Additionally, the assessment considered two future time frames: 2040–2079 (60) and 2060–2099 (80). Current study provided the threshold limit of different climatic variables in annual, quarter and monthly time slots like temperature annual range (26–30 °C), mean temperature of the driest quarter (25–28 °C); mean temperature of the coldest month (22–25 °C); minimum temperature of coldest month (13–17 °C); precipitation of the wettest month (250–500 mm); potential evapotranspiration Thronthwaite (1740–1800 mm). Predictive climatic habitat suitability posits that the introduction of this exotic species is deemed unsuitable in the Northern as well as the entirety of the cooler eastern areas of the country. The states of Rajasthan and Gujarat exhibit the highest degree of habitat suitability for this particular species. Niche hypervolumes and climatic variables affecting fundamental and realized niches were also assessed. This study proposes using multi-climatic exploration to evaluate habitats for introduced species to reduce modeling uncertainties.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Lima, V. P., R. A. Ferreira de Lima, F. Joner, L. D’Orangeville, N. Raes, I. Siddique, and H. ter Steege. 2023. Integrating climate change into agroforestry conservation: A case study on native plant species in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. Journal of Applied Ecology.

Designing multispecies systems with suitable climatic affinity and identifying species' vulnerability under human‐driven climate change are current challenges to achieve successful adaptation of natural systems. To address this problem, we need to (1) identify groups of species with climatic similarity under climate scenarios and (2) identify areas with high conservation value under predicted climate change.To recognize species with similar climatic niche requirements that can be grouped for mixed cropping in Brazil, we employed ecological niche models (ENMs) and Spearman's ρ for overlap. We also used prioritization algorithms to map areas of high conservation value using two Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSP2‐4.5 and SSP5‐8.5) to assess mid‐term (2041–2060) and long‐term (2061–2080) climate change impacts.We identified 15 species groups with finer climatic affinities at different times depicted on hierarchical clustering dendrograms, which can be combined into agroecological agroforestry systems. Furthermore, we highlight the climatically suitable areas for these groups of species, thus providing an outlook of where different species will need to be planted over time to be conserved. In addition, we observed that climate change is predicted to modify the spatial association of these groups under different future climate scenarios, causing a mean negative change in species climatic similarity of 9.5% to 13.7% under SSP2‐4.5 scenario and 9.5% to 10.5% under SSP5‐8.5, for 2041–2060 and 2061–2080, respectively.Synthesis and applications. Our findings provide a framework for agroforestry conservation. The groups of species with finer climatic affinities identified and the climatically suitable areas can be combined into agroecological productive systems, and provide an outlook of where different species may be planted over time. In addition, the conservation priority zones displaying high climate stability for each species individually and all at once can be incorporated into Brazil's conservation plans by policymakers to prioritize specific sites. Lastly, we urge policymakers, conservation organizations and donors to promote interventions involving farmers and local communities, since the species' evaluated have proven to maintain landscapes with productive forest fragments and can be conserved in different Brazilian ecosystems.