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. https://doi.org/10.1111/geb.13628

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.

Gómez Díaz, J. A., A. Lira-Noriega, and F. Villalobos. 2023. Expanding protected areas in a Neotropical hotspot. International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology: 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1080/13504509.2022.2163717

The region of central Veracruz is considered a biodiversity hotspot due to its high species richness and environmental heterogeneity, but only 2% of this region is currently protected. This study aimed to assess the current protected area system’s effectiveness and to identify priority conservation areas for expanding the existing protected area system. We used the distribution models of 1186 species from three kingdoms (Animalia, Plantae, and Fungi) together with ZONATION software, a conservation planning tool, to determine areas that could help expand the current network of protected areas. We applied three different parametrizations (including only species, using the boundary quality penalty, and using corridor connectivity). We found that protecting an additional 15% of the area would increase, between 16.2% and 19.3%, the protection of the distribution area of all species. We propose that the regions with a consensus of the three parametrizations should be declared as new protected areas to expand 374 km2 to the 216 km2 already protected. Doing so would double the protected surface in central Veracruz. The priority areas identified in this study have more species richness, carbon stock values, natural vegetation cover, and less human impact index than the existing protected areas. If our identified priority areas are declared protected, we could expect a future recovery of endangered species populations for Veracruz. The proposed new protected areas are planned and designed as corridors connecting currently isolated protected areas to promote biodiversity protection.

Baltensperger, A., J. Hagelin, P. Schuette, A. Droghini, and K. Ott. 2022. High dietary and habitat diversity indicate generalist behaviors of northern bog lemmings Synaptomys borealis in Alaska, USA. Endangered Species Research 49: 145–158. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01211

The northern bog lemming Synaptomys borealis (NBL) is a rare small mammal that is undergoing a federal Species Status Assessment (SSA) under the US Endangered Species Act. Despite a wide North American distribution, very little is known about NBL dietary or habitat needs, both of which are germane to the resiliency of this species to climate change. To quantify diet composition of NBL in Alaska, we used DNA metabarcoding from 59 archived specimens to describe the taxonomic richness and relative abundance of foods in recent diets. DNA analyses revealed a broad diet composed of at least 110 families and 92 genera of bryophytes (mosses and liverworts), graminoids, fungi, forbs, and woody shrubs. Nine bryophyte genera and Carex sedges composed the largest portions of NBL diets. To quantify habitat preference, we intersected 467 georeferenced occurrence records of NBL in Alaska with remotely sensed land cover classes and used a compositional analysis framework that accounts for the relative abundance of land cover types. We did not detect significant habitat preferences for specific land cover types, although NBL frequently occurred in evergreen forest, woody wetlands, and adjacent to water. Our research highlights the importance of bryophytes, among a high diversity of dietary components, and describes NBL as boreal habitat generalists. Results will inform the current federal SSA by quantifying the extent to which ecological constraints are likely to affect NBL in a rapidly changing boreal environment.

Mai, J., and G. Liu. 2023. Modeling and predicting the effects of climate change on cotton-suitable habitats in the Central Asian arid zone. Industrial Crops and Products 191: 115838. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.indcrop.2022.115838

Climate change has significantly affected global agricultural production, particularly in arid zones of Central Asia. Thus, we analyzed changes in the habitat suitability of cotton in Central Asia under various shared socioeconomic pathway (SSP) scenarios during 2021–2060. The results showed that the average minimum temperature in April, precipitation seasonality, and distance to rivers were the main environmental factors influencing the suitable distribution of cotton. Suitable habitats expanded toward the north and east, reaching a maximum net increase of 10.85 × 104 km2 under the SSP5–8.5 scenario during 2041–2060, while habitats in the southwestern area showed a contracting trend. The maximum decreased and increased habitats were concentrated at approximately 68°E and 87°E, respectively. In addition, their latitudinal distributions were concentrated at approximately 40°N and 44°N. The longitudinal and latitudinal dividing lines of increased and decreased habitats were 69°E and 41°N, respectively. Habitats at the same altitude showed an increasing trend, excluding the elevation range of 125–325 m. Habitat shifts could exacerbate spatial conflicts with forest/grassland and natural reserves. The maximum spatial overlap between them was observed under the SSP5–8.5 scenario during 2041–2060. These findings could provide scientific evidence for rational cotton cultivation planning in global arid zones.

Campbell, L. C. E., E. T. Kiers, and G. Chomicki. 2022. The evolution of plant cultivation by ants. Trends in Plant Science. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tplants.2022.09.005

Outside humans, true agriculture was previously thought to be restricted to social insects farming fungus. However, obligate farming of plants by ants was recently discovered in Fiji, prompting a re-examination of plant cultivation by ants. Here, we generate a database of plant cultivation by ants, identify three main types, and show that these interactions evolved primarily for shelter rather than food. We find that plant cultivation evolved at least 65 times independently for crops (~200 plant species), and 15 times in farmer lineages (~37 ant taxa) in the Neotropics and Asia/Australasia. Because of their high evolutionary replication, and variation in partner dependence, these systems are powerful models to unveil the steps in the evolution and ecology of insect agriculture.

Inman, R. D., T. C. Esque, and K. E. Nussear. 2022. Dispersal limitations increase vulnerability under climate change for reptiles and amphibians in the southwestern United States. The Journal of Wildlife Management. https://doi.org/10.1002/jwmg.22317

Species conservation plans frequently rely on information that spans political and administrative boundaries, especially when predictions are needed of future habitat under climate change; however, most species conservation plans and their requisite predictions of future habitat are often limited in geographical scope. Moreover, dispersal constraints for species of concern are not often incorporated into distribution models, which can result in overly optimistic predictions of future habitat. We used a standard modeling approach across a suite of 23 taxa of amphibians and reptiles in the North American deserts (560,024 km2 across 13 ecoregions) to assess impacts of climate change on habitat and combined landscape population dispersal simulations with species distribution modeling to reduce the risk of predicting future habitat in areas that are not available to species given their dispersal abilities. We used 3 general circulation models and 2 representative concentration pathways (RCPs) to represent multiple scenarios of future habitat potential and assess which study species may be most vulnerable to changes forecasted under each climate scenario. Amphibians were the most vulnerable taxa, but the most vulnerable species tended to be those with the lowest dispersal ability rather than those with the most specialized niches. Under the most optimistic climate scenario considered (RCP 2.6; a stringent scenario requiring declining emissions from 2020 to near zero emissions by 2100), 76% of the study area may experience a loss of >20% of the species examined, while up to 87% of the species currently present may be lost in some areas under the most pessimistic climate scenario (RCP 8.5; a scenario wherein greenhouse gases continue to increase through 2100 based on trajectories from the mid‐century). Most areas with high losses were concentrated in the Arizona and New Mexico Plateau ecoregion, the Edwards Plateau in Texas, and the Southwestern Tablelands in New Mexico and Texas, USA. Under the most pessimistic climate scenario, all species are predicted to lose some existing habitat, with an average of 34% loss of extant habitat across all species. Even under the most optimistic scenario, we detected an average loss of 24% of extant habitat across all species, suggesting that changing climates may influence the ranges of reptiles and amphibians in the Southwest.

Ripley, B. S., S. L. Raubenheimer, L. Perumal, M. Anderson, E. Mostert, B. S. Kgope, G. F. Midgley, and K. J. Simpson. 2022. CO 2 ‐fertilisation enhances resilience to browsing in the recruitment phase of an encroaching savanna tree. Functional Ecology. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2435.14215

CO2‐fertilisation is implicated in the widespread and significant woody encroachment of savannas due to CO2‐stimulated increases in belowground reserves that enhance sapling regrowth after fire. However, the effect of CO2 concentration ([CO2]) on tree responses to the other major disturbance in savannas, herbivory, is poorly understood. Herbivory‐responses cannot be predicted from fire‐responses, as herbivore effects occur earlier during establishment and are moderated by plant palatability and defence rather than belowground carbon accumulation.

Latron, M., J. Arnaud, E. Schmitt, and A. Duputié. 2022. Idiosyncratic shifts in life‐history traits at species’ geographic range edges. Oikos. https://doi.org/10.1111/oik.09098

Anthropogenic changes drive shifts in species' geographic distributions and increase the occurrence of leading or trailing‐edge marginal populations. Theoretical predictions and empirical observations indicate substantial changes in life‐history traits in marginal populations, often involving dispersal and reproductive abilities. Using a common garden experiment, we studied the variation of life‐history traits of populations sampled on spatial gradients extending from range‐core to range‐edge habitats for three expanding (miner's lettuce Claytonia perfoliata, Danish scurvygrass Cochlearia danica and rock samphire Crithmum maritimum) and one receding plant species (dune pansy Viola tricolor subs. curtisii). We monitored life‐history traits related to dispersal, phenology, survival, reproductive output and selfing ability. Significant shifts in life‐history traits between central and marginal populations strongly differed among species. Marginal populations of the three expanding species displayed modified seed weight in natura, suggesting increased dispersal abilities in leading‐edge populations. Discarding unassessed maternal effects, this trait modification can be due to phenotypic plasticity or to genetic differentiation. In miner's lettuce, marginal expanding populations show advanced phenology and higher reproductive output, that may potentially influence their colonization ability. In rock samphire, life‐history traits showed large intra‐ and inter‐population variability that did not follow a core‐to‐edge geographic trend, except for seed size. Finally, the receding populations of the dune pansy displayed a shift towards a plant architecture maximizing survival but reducing individual reproductive success. Altogether, our results indicated a common trend for increased dispersal abilities in marginal populations of expanding species. However, shifts in species' distributions may drive idiosyncratic changes in other life‐history traits, for which we observed no general evolutionary syndrome at range edges. These findings go along a stochastic view of trait evolution during range expansion, and question how to draw predictive projections of species' distribution shifts under current global change.

García, L., J. Veneros, S. Chavez, M. Oliva, and N. B. Rojas Briceño. 2022. World historical mapping and potential distribution of Cinchona spp. in Peru as a contribution for its restoration and conservation. Journal for Nature Conservation: 126290. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnc.2022.126290

Peru is a megadiverse country in neotropical flora and is home to an important genus of plants called Cinchona and commonly all its individual species are called Cinchona Tree (Cinchona spp.), which represents the national tree for this nation. This country has 18 species, a group of these species are listed as vulnerable, endangered, and their population trend is currently unknown. This genus is at risk of extinction due to overexploitation for its medicinal, constructive and food uses. The IUCN also mentions that increased species assessments and records will help make the IUCN Red List a “barometer of life”. Based on the fact that understanding the effects of environmental change on ecosystems requires the identification of historical and current baselines, which can act as reference conditions, this research generated georeferenced global historical maps of Cinchona spp. and then determined the appropriate sites based on environmental variables using the Maxent software and established the probabilities of occurrence of this genus in Peru to establish priority areas for its conservation and restoration. Four maps were obtained, one for each centennial, from 1737 to the present, with 10,860 occurrences of Cinchona. In the MaxEnt modeling, 10.30 % (13 3172.56 km2) and 19.20 % (24 7371.32 km2) of Peru's surface area had high (> 0.6) and moderate (0.4 - 0.6) probabilities, respectively, of hosting Cinchona. Only 7.6 % (17 305.32 km2) and 22.0 % (50 153.73 km2) of the areas with high and moderate distribution potential, respectively, were covered by natural protected areas. Likewise, 11.90 % (21 738.75 km2) and 33.20 % (60 789.17 km2) of the high and moderate probability lands, respectively, correspond to degraded areas (DAs) and, therefore, are considered a priority for restoration with Cinchona spp. The results may stimulate the rethinking of decision making for the National Action Plan for Reforestation with Species of the Genus Cinchona and other plans or tools for Cinchona conservation in Peru.

Kroonen, G., A. Jakob, A. I. Palmér, P. van Sluis, and A. Wigman. 2022. Indo-European cereal terminology suggests a Northwest Pontic homeland for the core Indo-European languages S. Wichmann [ed.],. PLOS ONE 17: e0275744. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0275744

Questions on the timing and the center of the Indo-European language dispersal are central to debates on the formation of the European and Asian linguistic landscapes and are deeply intertwined with questions on the archaeology and population history of these continents. Recent palaeogenomic studies support scenarios in which the core Indo-European languages spread with the expansion of Early Bronze Age Yamnaya herders that originally inhabited the East European steppes. Questions on the Yamnaya and Pre-Yamnaya locations of the language community that ultimately gave rise to the Indo-European language family are heavily dependent on linguistic reconstruction of the subsistence of Proto-Indo-European speakers. A central question, therefore, is how important the role of agriculture was among the speakers of this protolanguage. In this study, we perform a qualitative etymological analysis of all previously postulated Proto-Indo-European terminology related to cereal cultivation and cereal processing. On the basis of the evolution of the subsistence strategies of consecutive stages of the protolanguage, we find that one or perhaps two cereal terms can be reconstructed for the basal Indo-European stage, also known as Indo-Anatolian, but that core Indo-European, here also including Tocharian, acquired a more elaborate set of terms. Thus, we linguistically document an important economic shift from a mostly non-agricultural to a mixed agro-pastoral economy between the basal and core Indo-European speech communities. It follows that the early, eastern Yamnaya of the Don-Volga steppe, with its lack of evidence for agricultural practices, does not offer a perfect archaeological proxy for the core Indo-European language community and that this stage of the language family more likely reflects a mixed subsistence as proposed for western Yamnaya groups around or to the west of the Dnieper River.