Science Enabled by Specimen Data

McCoshum, S. M., and A. A. Agrawal. 2021. Ecology of Asclepias brachystephana: a plant for roadside and right-of-way management. Native Plants Journal 22: 256–267.

Declining insect abundance is occurring around the world, and some management projects are aiming to utilize roadsides and other right-of-ways as insect conservation areas. In the US, the decline of the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus Linnaeus [Nymphalidae]) populations has led to multiple studies focusing on a small number of milkweed species (Asclepias [Apocynaceae]) that occur in the major flyways. Here we survey a poorly studied milkweed, bract milkweed (A. brachystephana Engelm. ex Torr.), to document where it grows, which organisms make use of the plants, seed production, and concentrations of milkweed toxins (cardenolides) and to investigate if this species is suitable for roadside or right-of-ways management projects. Our results show that the range of A. brachystephana includes the Chihuahuan Desert and neighboring ecoregions. Plant populations were also observed occurring on roadsides and right-of-ways, rarely spreading into neighboring habitats. We document a variety of native pollinators utilizing floral resources and a few herbivores feeding on plant tissue. Chemical analyses show wild plants produce higher concentrations of toxic cardenolide than many other milkweed species. These data suggest A. brachystephana should be considered for roadside and right-of-way plantings, restoration projects, or seeding throughout the Chihuahuan Desert and adjoining ecoregions.

Chincoya, D. A., S. Arias, F. Vaca-Paniagua, P. Dávila, and S. Solórzano. 2023. Phylogenomics and Biogeography of the Mammilloid Clade Revealed an Intricate Evolutionary History Arose in the Mexican Plateau. Biology 12: 512.

Mexico harbors ~45% of world’s cacti species richness. Their biogeography and phylogenomics were integrated to elucidate the evolutionary history of the genera Coryphantha, Escobaria, Mammillaria, Mammilloydia, Neolloydia, Ortegocactus, and Pelecyphora (Mammilloid Clade). We analyzed 52 orthologous loci from 142 complete genomes of chloroplast (103 taxa) to generate a cladogram and a chronogram; in the latter, the ancestral distribution was reconstructed with the Dispersal-Extinction-Cladogenesis model. The ancestor of these genera arose ~7 Mya on the Mexican Plateau, from which nine evolutionary lineages evolved. This region was the site of 52% of all the biogeographical processes. The lineages 2, 3 and 6 were responsible for the colonization of the arid southern territories. In the last 4 Mya, the Baja California Peninsula has been a region of prolific evolution, particularly for lineages 8 and 9. Dispersal was the most frequent process and vicariance had relevance in the isolation of cacti distributed in the south of Mexico. The 70 taxa sampled as Mammillaria were distributed in six distinct lineages; one of these presumably corresponded to this genus, which likely had its center of origin in the southern part of the Mexican Plateau. We recommend detailed studies to further determine the taxonomic circumscription of the seven genera.

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.

Amaral, D. T., I. A. S. Bonatelli, M. Romeiro-Brito, E. M. Moraes, and F. F. Franco. 2022. Spatial patterns of evolutionary diversity in Cactaceae show low ecological representation within protected areas. Biological Conservation 273: 109677.

Mapping biodiversity patterns across taxa and environments is crucial to address the evolutionary and ecological dimensions of species distribution, suggesting areas of particular importance for conservation purposes. Within Cactaceae, spatial diversity patterns are poorly explored, as are the abiotic factors that may predict these patterns. We gathered geographic and genetic data from 921 cactus species by exploring both the occurrence and genetic databases, which are tightly associated with drylands, to evaluate diversity patterns, such as phylogenetic diversity and endemism, paleo-, neo-, and superendemism, and the environmental predictor variables of such patterns in a global analysis. Hotspot areas of cacti diversity are scattered along the Neotropical and Nearctic regions, mainly in the desertic portion of Mesoamerica, Caribbean Island, and the dry diagonal of South America. The geomorphological features of these regions may create a complexity of areas that work as locally buffered zones over time, which triggers local events of diversification and speciation. Desert and dryland/dry forest areas comprise paleo- and superendemism and may act as both museums and cradles of species, displaying great importance for conservation. Past climates, topography, soil features, and solar irradiance seem to be the main predictors of distinct endemism types. The hotspot areas that encompass a major part of the endemism cells are outside or poorly covered by formal protection units. The current legally protected areas are not able to conserve the evolutionary diversity of cacti. Given the rapid anthropogenic disturbance, efforts must be reinforced to monitor biodiversity and the environment and to define/plan current and new protected areas.

Kendig, A. E., S. Canavan, P. J. Anderson, S. L. Flory, L. A. Gettys, D. R. Gordon, B. V. Iannone III, et al. 2022. Scanning the horizon for invasive plant threats using a data-driven approach. NeoBiota 74: 129–154.

AbstractEarly detection and eradication of invasive plants are more cost-effective than managing well-established invasive plant populations and their impacts. However, there is high uncertainty around which taxa are likely to become invasive in a given area. Horizon scanning that combines a data-driven approach with rapid risk assessment and consensus building among experts can help identify invasion threats. We performed a horizon scan of potential invasive plant threats to Florida, USA—a state with a high influx of introduced species, conditions that are generally favorable for plant establishment, and a history of negative impacts from invasive plants. We began with an initial list of 2128 non-native plant taxa that are known invaders or crop pests. We built on previous invasive species horizon scans by developing data-based criteria to prioritize 100 taxa for rapid risk assessment. The semi-automated prioritization process included selecting taxa “on the horizon” (i.e., not yet in the target location and not on a noxious weed list) with climate matching, naturalization history, “weediness” record, and global commonness. We derived overall invasion risk scores with rapid risk assessment by evaluating the likelihood of each of the taxa arriving, establishing, and having an impact in Florida. Then, following a consensus-building discussion, we identified six plant taxa as high risk, with overall risk scores ranging from 75 to 100 out of a possible 125. The six taxa are globally distributed, easily transported to new areas, found in regions with climates similar to Florida’s, and can impact native plant communities, human health, or agriculture. Finally, we evaluated our initial and final lists for potential biases. Assessors tended to assign higher risk scores to taxa that had more available information. In addition, we identified biases towards four plant families and certain geographical regions of origin. Our horizon scan approach identified taxa conforming to metrics of high invasion risk and used a methodology refined for plants that can be applied to other locations.

Bywater‐Reyes, S., R. M. Diehl, A. C. Wilcox, J. C. Stella, and L. Kui. 2022. A Green New Balance: Interactions among riparian vegetation plant traits and morphodynamics in alluvial rivers. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 47: 2410–2436.

The strength of interactions between plants and river processes is mediated by plant traits and fluvial conditions, including above‐ground biomass, stem density and flexibility, channel and bed material properties, and flow and sediment regimes. In many rivers, concurrent changes in 1) the composition of riparian vegetation communities as a result of exotic species invasion and 2) shifts in hydrology have altered physical and ecological conditions in a manner that has been mediated by feedbacks between vegetation and morphodynamic processes. We review how Tamarix, which has invaded many U.S. Southwest waterways, and Populus species, woody pioneer trees that are native to the region, differentially affect hydraulics, sediment transport, and river morphology. We draw on flume, field, and modeling approaches spanning the individual seedling to river‐corridor scales. In a flume study, we found differences in the crown morphology, stem density, and flexibility of Tamarix compared to Populus influenced near‐bed flow velocities in a manner that favored aggradation associated with Tamarix. Similarly, at the patch and corridor scales, observations confirmed increased aggradation with increased vegetation density. Furthermore, long‐term channel adjustments were different for Tamarix‐ versus Populus‐dominated reaches, with faster and greater geomorphic adjustments for Tamarix. Collectively, our studies show how plant‐trait differences between Tamarix and Populus, from individual seedlings to larger spatial and temporal scales, influence the co‐adjustment of rivers and riparian plant communities. These findings provide a basis for predicting changes in alluvial riverine systems which we conceptualize as a Green New Balance model that considers how channels may adjust to changes in plant traits and community structure in additional to alterations in flow and sediment supply. We offer suggestions regarding how the Green New Balance can be used in management and invasive species management.

Cui, N., T. Chen, B. Liao, J. Xu, and X. Li. 2021. The biology of medicinal resource substitution in Salvia. Chinese Medicine 16.

Background The decrease of wild reserves and the sharp increase of market demand have led to resource substitution, but it is still not clear how to discover medicinal alternative resources. Here we reveal the biology of medicinal resource substitution in the case of Salvia. Methods A hypothesis was…

Xue, T., S. R. Gadagkar, T. P. Albright, X. Yang, J. Li, C. Xia, J. Wu, and S. Yu. 2021. Prioritizing conservation of biodiversity in an alpine region: Distribution pattern and conservation status of seed plants in the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. Global Ecology and Conservation 32: e01885.

The Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau (QTP) harbors abundant and diverse plant life owing to its high habitat heterogeneity. However, the distribution pattern of biodiversity hotspots and their conservation status remain unclear. Based on 148,283 high-resolution occurrence coordinates of 13,450 seed plants, w…

Wan, J.-Z., C.-J. Wang, and F.-H. Yu. 2019. Large-scale environmental niche variation between clonal and non-clonal plant species: Roles of clonal growth organs and ecoregions. Science of The Total Environment 652: 1071–1076.

Clonal plant species can produce genetically identical and potentially independent offspring, and dominate a variety of habitats. The divergent evolutionary mechanisms between clonal and non-clonal plants are interesting areas of ecological research. A number of studies have shown that the environme…