Science Enabled by Specimen Data

Ferreira, G. E., J. L. Clark, L. Clavijo, A. Zuluaga, A. Chautems, M. J. G. Hopkins, A. O. Araujo, and M. Perret. 2024. Phylogenetics, character evolution, and historical biogeography of the Neotropical genus Besleria (Gesneriaceae). Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society.

Besleria, a genus of perennial herbs, shrubs, or small trees growing in the understorey of rainforests, is one of the largest genera of neotropical Gesneriaceae, with over 165 species. Despite the ecological importance and ubiquity of Besleria in rainforest ecosystems, taxonomic and evolutionary studies of Besleria are limited. Here, we generated a phylogenetic analysis of Besleria using four nuclear and chloroplast DNA regions (ITS, matK, rps16, and trnL-trnF) covering more than 50% of the recognized species, along with two secondary calibration points to infer divergence times. Our results support the monophyly of Besleria and allowed us to revise the infrageneric classification and biogeographical history of the genus. We identified five major clades that do not correspond to sections or subsections in previous classifications. These clades are well circumscribed geographically but remain difficult to characterize using previously hypothesized morphological characters. Biogeographical reconstructions indicate an origin in the northern Andes during the Middle Miocene (ca. 15 Mya). The current distribution patterns of this plant group have been significantly shaped by geological and climatic events, particularly Andean uplift and the formation of the Panama Isthmus.

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.

Ramos, R. S., G. M. Via do Pico, M. Brea, and D. M. Kröhling. 2024. New fossil woods (upper Pleistocene) from the lower-middle Uruguay river basin (South America) reveal the past distribution of Aspidosperma (Apocynaceae). Quaternary International.

The present work describes the taxonomic and paleobiogeographic study of two fossil woods related to extant Aspidosperma. The silicified specimens come from the fossil localities of Santa Ana (30°54′S, 57°55′W) and Concordia (31°19′S, 57°59′W), Entre Ríos Province, Argentina, belonging to the El Palmar Formation (Late Pleistocene). This unit represents the sedimentary body of the upper fluvial terrace generated by the Uruguay River in its middle basin in eastern Argentina. The anatomical features that distinguish the woods are growth rings delimited by axial parenchyma and fibers, semi-ring to-diffuse-porous woods; mainly solitary vessels; simple perforation plates; alternate, bordered, and vestured intervessel pits; scarce paratracheal and diffuse apotracheal axial parenchyma; homocellular, and uniseriate to-triseriate rays; non-septate fibers. Climate reconstruction modelled at the regional scale (Ecological Niche Modeling) revealed variations in macroecological diversity patterns of the nearest living relatives (Aspidosperma australe and A. polyneuron) over the last ca. 130,000 years. Optically stimulated luminescence dating of sediments from the upper part of the El Palmar Formation in the type area reveals that the unit spans from the Last Interglacial period (warm substage, MIS marine isotope stage 5a), to the penultimate interglacial (MIS 7). This period was characterized by warmer and wetter conditions than those observed today. The eco-anatomical characteristics of the fossil record reflect this type of environment. The modern analogues of the fossils studied here are now part of the forests that integrate the Atlantic forest and Araucaria forest biogeographic provinces in South America.

Rayos, A. L., M. A. M. Renner, and S. Y. W. Ho. 2024. The Neotropical endemic liverwort subfamily Micropterygioideae had circum‐Antarctic links to the rest of the Lepidoziaceae during the early Cretaceous. Ecology and Evolution 14.

Lepidoziaceae are the third‐largest family of liverworts, with about 860 species distributed on all continents. The evolutionary history of this family has not been satisfactorily resolved, with taxa such as Micropterygioideae yet to be included in phylogenetic analyses. We inferred a dated phylogeny of Lepidoziaceae using a data set consisting of 13 genetic markers, sampled from 147 species. Based on our phylogenetic estimate, we used statistical dispersal‐vicariance analysis to reconstruct the biogeographic history of the family. We inferred a crown age of 197 Ma (95% credible interval 157–240 Ma) for the family in the Australian region, with most major lineages also originating in the same region. Micropterygioideae are placed as the sister group to Lembidioideae, with these two lineages diverging from each other about 132 Ma in the South American–Australian region. With South America and Australia being connected through Antarctica at the time, our results suggest a circum‐Antarctic link between Micropterygioideae and the rest of the family. Crown Micropterygioideae were inferred to have arisen 45 Ma in South America before the continent separated from Antarctica. Extinction from southern temperate regions might explain the present‐day restriction of Micropterygioideae to the Neotropics. Our study reveals the influence of past geological events, such as continental drift, on the evolution and distribution of a widespread and diverse family of liverworts.

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.

Prochazka, L. S., S. Alcantara, J. G. Rando, T. Vasconcelos, R. C. Pizzardo, and A. Nogueira. 2024. Resource availability and disturbance frequency shape evolution of plant life forms in Neotropical habitats. New Phytologist.

Organisms use diverse strategies to thrive in varying habitats. While life history theory partly explains these relationships, the combined impact of resource availability and disturbance frequency on life form strategy evolution has received limited attention.We use Chamaecrista species, a legume plant lineage with a high diversity of plant life forms in the Neotropics, and employ ecological niche modeling and comparative phylogenetic methods to examine the correlated evolution of plant life forms and environmental niches.Chamaephytes and phanerophytes have optima in environments characterized by moderate water and nutrient availability coupled with infrequent fire disturbances. By contrast, annual plants thrive in environments with scarce water and nutrients, alongside frequent fire disturbances. Similarly, geophyte species also show increased resistance to frequent fire disturbances, although they thrive in resource‐rich environments.Our findings shed light on the evolution of plant strategies along environmental gradients, highlighting that annuals and geophytes respond differently to high incidences of fire disturbances, with one enduring it as seeds in a resource‐limited habitat and the other relying on reserves and root resprouting systems in resource‐abundant habitats. Furthermore, it deepens our understanding of how organisms evolve associated with their habitats, emphasizing a constraint posed by low‐resource and high‐disturbance environments.

Rocha, V. D. da, T. C. da S. Dal’Sasso, C. C. V. Williams, M. F. Simon, M. L. Bueno, and L. O. de Oliveira. 2024. From forest to savanna and back to forest: Evolutionary history of the genus Dimorphandra (Fabaceae). Journal of Plant Research.

The tree genus Dimorphandra (Fabaceae), which contains 26 species divided into three subgenera, was studied using DNA sequence data from six chloroplast genome regions (cpDNA) and the nuclear internal transcribed spacer (ITS). The analyses, which included Bayesian phylogenies and haplotype networks, ancestral area reconstructions, and ecological niche modeling, allowed for exploring the evolutionary history of Dimorphandra . Within the subgenus Phaneropsia , the cpDNA sequence data were more closely-related to species from the genus Mora , while the ITS sequence data displayed a closer phylogenetic relationship with the subgenus Pocillum . This incongruence may be due to incomplete lineage sorting associated with ancient polymorphisms. The Amazonian Dimophandra lineages were highly polymorphic and divergent, while those from the Cerrado and the Atlantic Forest had low levels of polymorphisms. The Amazon likely gave rise to the Dimophandra lineage that produced the Cerrado species, while a Cerrado lineage likely gave rise to the Atlantic Forest species. Habitat shifts were identified as a key factor in shaping the late evolutionary history of Dimorphandra .

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.

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.

Neupane, A., B. Adhikari, and B. B. Shrestha. 2024. Cuphea carthagenensis (Jacquin) J.F. Macbride, Lythraceae: a newly naturalised species from eastern Nepal. Check List 20: 40–46.

Cuphea carthagenensis (Jacquin) J.F. Macbride, a native of South America, is recorded for the first time from Mechinagar municipality of south‑eastern Nepal. This weed has already been in the neighboring north‑east region of India since the 1950s and might have recently spread into south‑eastern Nepal where it is colonizing riparian habitats. We provide a detailed taxonomic account, as well as the distribution, major habitat, and invasion status of C. carthagenensis.