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Science Enabled by Specimen Data

Zhang, R., L.-L. Huang, S.-F. Li, T. Su, and A. A. Oskolski. 2024. Fossil woods of Cryptocarya (Lauraceae) from the middle Miocene of Southwest China. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 324: 105096.

The structure of lauraceous fossil woods from the middle Miocene deposits of the Dajie Formation of Ninger County, Yunnan Province, China has been studied. The occurrence of wide (> 7 seriate) rays in combination with the presence of scalariform perforation plates, the oil/mucilage cells in rays, axial parenchyma and among fibers as well as some other traits allow us to attribute the fossil woods to the extant genus Cryptocarya. We describe the woods as a new species C. latiradiata R. Zhang, T. Su & A. A. Oskolski sp. nov. (Lauraceae). This is an important improvement in the fossil record of Cryptocarya showing that this genus was widely ranged across southern China in the middle Miocene. The occurrence of the fossil woods of such termophyllous genus as Cryptocarya in the Dajie Formation suggests that this middle Miocene climate in southern Yunnan was frostless. This result is consistent with other evidence for the warm environment caused by complex topographic structures in this region since the middle Miocene linked to the successive uplift of the Tibetan Plateau and the Ailao Mountains. Particularly, it suggests that the Ailao Mountains in the middle Miocene were high enough to weaken the influence of the Asian Winter Monsoon on the territory of Yunnan.

Ramírez-Barahona, S. 2024. Incorporating fossils into the joint inference of phylogeny and biogeography of the tree fern order Cyatheales R. Warnock, and M. Zelditch [eds.],. Evolution.

Present-day geographic and phylogenetic patterns often reflect the geological and climatic history of the planet. Neontological distribution data are often sufficient to unravel a lineage’s biogeographic history, yet ancestral range inferences can be at odds with fossil evidence. Here, I use the fossilized birth–death process and the dispersal–extinction cladogenesis model to jointly infer the dated phylogeny and range evolution of the tree fern order Cyatheales. I use data for 101 fossil and 442 extant tree ferns to reconstruct the biogeographic history of the group over the last 220 million years. Fossil-aware reconstructions evince a prolonged occupancy of Laurasia over the Triassic–Cretaceous by Cyathealean tree ferns, which is evident in the fossil record but hidden from analyses relying on neontological data alone. Nonetheless, fossil-aware reconstructions are affected by uncertainty in fossils’ phylogenetic placement, taphonomic biases, and specimen sampling and are sensitive to interpretation of paleodistributions and how these are scored. The present results highlight the need and challenges of incorporating fossils into joint inferences of phylogeny and biogeography to improve the reliability of ancestral geographic range estimation.

Li, D., X. Wang, K. Jiang, R. An, Y. Li, and D. Liu. 2024. The impact of climate change and the conservation of the keystone Asian honeybee using niche models and systematic prioritization C. Bahlai [ed.],. Journal of Economic Entomology.

Global warming has seriously disturbed the Earth’s ecosystems, and in this context, Asian honeybee (Apis cerana) has experienced a dramatic decline in recent decades. Here, we examined both direct and indirect effects of climate change on A. cerana through ecological niche modeling of A. cerana, and its disease pathogens (i.e., Chinese sacbrood virus and Melissococcus plutonius) and enemies (i.e., Galleria mellonella and Vespa mandarinia). Ecological niche modeling predicts that climate change will increase the potential suitability of A. cerana, but it will also cause some of the original habitat areas to become unsuitable. Outbreak risks of Chinese sacbrood disease and European Foulbrood will increase dramatically, while those of G. mellonella and V. mandarinia will decrease only slightly. Thus, climate change will produce an unfavorable situation for even maintaining some A. cerana populations in China in the future. Genetic structure analyses showed that the A. cerana population from Hainan Island had significant genetic differentiation from that of the mainland, and there was almost no gene flow between the 2, suggesting that urgent measures are needed to protect the unique genetic resources there. Through taking an integrated planning technique with the Marxan approach, we optimized conservation planning, and identified potential nature reserves (mainly in western Sichuan and southern Tibet) for conservation of A. cerana populations. Our results can provide insights into the potential impact of climate change on A. cerana, and will help to promote the conservation of the keystone honeybee in China and the long-term sustainability of its ecosystem services.

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.

Short, A. W., J. S. V. Sebastian, J. Huang, G. Wang, M. Dassanayake, P. M. Finnegan, J. D. Parker, et al. 2024. Comparative transcriptomics of the chilling stress response in two Asian mangrove species Bruguiera gymnorhiza and Rhizophora apiculata. Tree Physiology.

Abstract Low temperatures largely determine the geographic limits of plant species by reducing survival and growth. Interspecific differences in the geographic distribution of mangrove species have been associated with cold tolerance, with exclusively tropical species being highly cold-sensitive and subtropical species being relatively cold-tolerant. To identify species-specific adaptations to low temperatures, we compared the chilling stress response of two widespread Indo-West Pacific mangrove species from Rhizophoraceae with differing latitudinal range limits—Bruguiera gymnorhiza (subtropical range limit) and Rhizophora apiculata (tropical range limit). For both species, we measured the maximum photochemical efficiency of photosystem II (Fv/Fm) as a proxy for the physiological condition of the plants and examined gene expression profiles during chilling at 15 °C and 5 °C. At 15 °C, B. gymnorhiza maintained a significantly higher Fv/Fm than R. apiculata. However, at 5 °C, both species displayed equivalent Fv/Fm values. Thus, species-specific differences in chilling tolerance were only found at 15 °C, and both species were sensitive to chilling at 5 °C. At 15 °C, B. gymnorhiza down-regulated genes related to the light reactions of photosynthesis and up-regulated a gene involved in cyclic electron flow regulation, while R. apiculata down-regulated more RuBisCo related genes. At 5 °C, both species repressed genes related to CO2 assimilation. The down-regulation of genes related to light absorption and up-regulation of genes related to cyclic electron flow regulation are photoprotective mechanisms that likely contributed to the greater PSII photochecmical efficiency of B. gymnorhiza at 15 °C. The results of this study provide evidence that the distributional range limits and potentially the expansion rates of plant species are associated with differences in the regulation of photosynthesis and photoprotective mechanisms under low temperatures.

Minghetti, E., P. M. Dellapé, M. Maestro, and S. I. Montemayor. 2024. Evaluating the climatic suitability of Engytatus passionarius Minghetti et al. (Heteroptera, Miridae) as a biological control agent of the invasive stinking passion flower Passiflora foetida L. in Australia through ecological niche models. Biological Control 191: 105461.

Passiflora foetida is a climbing vine, native to the Neotropical Region that is causing major economic and ecological damage in Australia, where it is rapidly spreading. Traditional control options, such as cutting, manual uprooting, and herbicide applications are only effective for local management. Currently, the plant bug Engytatus passionarius is the most promising biological control agent. Specificity tests performed in its native range in Argentina suggest it is highly specific to the plant, and it has not been observed in the field associated with other plants. As climate determines the establishment of insects, knowing if the environmental conditions suit their requirements is key to introducing a species in a region. Also, an overlap between the climatic niches of species is an indicator of similar requirements. To explore the possibilities of a successful establishment of E. passionarius in Australia, ecological niche models (ENM) were built for the plant bug and for the vine and their overlap was measured. The ENM projected to Australia recognized suitable environmental conditions for the establishment of E. passionarius in several regions where P. foetida is present, both for current and future scenarios. Moreover, the niche of the plant bug is almost completely overlapped with that of the vine. All the aforementioned evidence seems to indicate that E. passionarius has a good chance to become an effective biological control agent of P. foetida.

Zhang, H., W. Guo, and W. Wang. 2023. The dimensionality reductions of environmental variables have a significant effect on the performance of species distribution models. Ecology and Evolution 13.

How to effectively obtain species‐related low‐dimensional data from massive environmental variables has become an urgent problem for species distribution models (SDMs). In this study, we will explore whether dimensionality reduction on environmental variables can improve the predictive performance of SDMs. We first used two linear (i.e., principal component analysis (PCA) and independent components analysis) and two nonlinear (i.e., kernel principal component analysis (KPCA) and uniform manifold approximation and projection) dimensionality reduction techniques (DRTs) to reduce the dimensionality of high‐dimensional environmental data. Then, we established five SDMs based on the environmental variables of dimensionality reduction for 23 real plant species and nine virtual species, and compared the predictive performance of those with the SDMs based on the selected environmental variables through Pearson's correlation coefficient (PCC). In addition, we studied the effects of DRTs, model complexity, and sample size on the predictive performance of SDMs. The predictive performance of SDMs under DRTs other than KPCA is better than using PCC. And the predictive performance of SDMs using linear DRTs is better than using nonlinear DRTs. In addition, using DRTs to deal with environmental variables has no less impact on the predictive performance of SDMs than model complexity and sample size. When the model complexity is at the complex level, PCA can improve the predictive performance of SDMs the most by 2.55% compared with PCC. At the middle level of sample size, the PCA improved the predictive performance of SDMs by 2.68% compared with the PCC. Our study demonstrates that DRTs have a significant effect on the predictive performance of SDMs. Specifically, linear DRTs, especially PCA, are more effective at improving model predictive performance under relatively complex model complexity or large sample sizes.

Jin, D., Q. Yuan, X. Dai, G. Kozlowski, and Y. Song. 2023. Enhanced precipitation has driven the evolution of subtropical evergreen broad‐leaved forests in eastern China since the early Miocene: Evidence from ring‐cupped oaks. Journal of Systematics and Evolution.

Subtropical evergreen broad‐leaved forest (EBLF) is the predominant vegetation type in eastern China. However, the majority of the region it covers in eastern China was an arid area during the Paleogene. The temporal history and essential factors involved in the evolution of subtropical EBLFs in eastern China remain enigmatic. Here we report on the niche evolution of Quercus section Cyclobalanopsis, which appeared in south China and Japan during the Eocene and became a dominant component of subtropical EBLFs since the Miocene in eastern Asia, using integrative analysis of occurrences, climate data and a dated phylogeny of 35 species in Cyclobalanopsis. Species within clades Cyclobalanoides, Lamellosa, and Helferiana mainly exist in the Himalaya–Hengduan region, adapting to a plateau climate, while species within the other clades mainly live in eastern China under the control of the East Asian monsoon. Reconstructed history showed that significant divergence of climatic tolerance in Cyclobalanopsis began around 19 million years ago (Ma) in the early Miocene. Simultaneously, disparities in precipitation of wettest/warmest quarter and annual precipitation were markedly enhanced in Cyclobalanopsis, especially in the recent eastern clades. During the Miocene, the marked radiation of Cyclobalanopsis and many other dominant taxa of subtropical EBLFs strongly suggest the rapid formation and expansion of subtropical EBLFs in eastern China. Our research highlights that the intensification of the East Asian monsoon and subsequent occupation of new niches by the ancient clades already present in the south may have jointly promoted the formation of subtropical EBLFs in eastern China since the early Miocene.

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.

Kolanowska, M. 2023. Future distribution of the epiphytic leafless orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii), its pollinators and phorophytes evaluated using niche modelling and three different climate change projections. Scientific Reports 13.

The identification of future refugia for endangered species from the effects of global warming is crucial for improving their conservation. Because climate-driven shifts in ranges and local extinctions can result in a spatial mismatch with their symbiotic organisms, however, it is important to incorporate in niche modelling the ecological partners of the species studied. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effect of climate change on the distribution of suitable niches for the ghost orchid ( Dendrophylax lindenii ) and its phorophytes and pollinators. Thus, its five species of host trees and three pollen vectors were included in the analysis. Climatic preferences of all the species studied were evaluated. The modelling was based on three different climate change projections and four Shared Socio-economic Pathway trajectories. All the species analysed are characterized by narrow temperature tolerances, which with global warming are likely to result in local extinctions and range shifts. D. lindenii is likely to be subjected to a significant loss of suitable niches, but within a reduced geographical range, both host trees and pollen vectors will be available in the future. Future conservation of this orchid should focus on areas that are likely be suitable for it and its ecological partners.