Science Enabled by Specimen Data

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.

Lannuzel, G., L. Pouget, D. Bruy, V. Hequet, S. Meyer, J. Munzinger, and G. Gâteblé. 2022. Mining rare Earth elements: Identifying the plant species most threatened by ore extraction in an insular hotspot. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 10. https://doi.org/10.3389/fevo.2022.952439

Conservation efforts in global biodiversity hotspots often face a common predicament: an urgent need for conservation action hampered by a significant lack of knowledge about that biodiversity. In recent decades, the computerisation of primary biodiversity data worldwide has provided the scientific community with raw material to increase our understanding of the shared natural heritage. These datasets, however, suffer from a lot of geographical and taxonomic inaccuracies. Automated tools developed to enhance their reliability have shown that detailed expert examination remains the best way to achieve robust and exhaustive datasets. In New Caledonia, one of the most important biodiversity hotspots worldwide, the plant diversity inventory is still underway, and most taxa awaiting formal description are narrow endemics, hence by definition hard to discern in the datasets. In the meantime, anthropogenic pressures, such as nickel-ore mining, are threatening the unique ultramafic ecosystems at an increasing rate. The conservation challenge is therefore a race against time, as the rarest species must be identified and protected before they vanish. In this study, based on all available datasets and resources, we applied a workflow capable of highlighting the lesser known taxa. The main challenges addressed were to aggregate all data available worldwide, and tackle the geographical and taxonomic biases, avoiding the data loss resulting from automated filtering. Every doubtful specimen went through a careful taxonomic analysis by a local and international taxonomist panel. Geolocation of the whole dataset was achieved through dataset cross-checking, local botanists’ field knowledge, and historical material examination. Field studies were also conducted to clarify the most unresolved taxa. With the help of this method and by analysing over 85,000 data, we were able to double the number of known narrow endemic taxa, elucidate 68 putative new species, and update our knowledge of the rarest species’ distributions so as to promote conservation measures.

Tazikeh, S., S. Zendehboudi, S. Ghafoori, A. Lohi, and N. Mahinpey. 2022. Algal bioenergy production and utilization: Technologies, challenges, and prospects. Journal of Environmental Chemical Engineering 10: 107863. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jece.2022.107863

Increasing demand for energy and also escalating environmental pollution show that industries cannot rely on fossil fuels, and it is necessary to adopt an alternative. In recent decades, algal bioenergy has emerged as a renewable energy source in different industries. However, algal bioenergy production is costly and faces different challenges and unknown aspects that need to be addressed. Experimental and theoretical research works have revealed that the efficiency of algal bioenergy production is influenced by several factors, including algae species, temperature, light, CO2, cultivation method, and available nutrients. Algal bioenergy production on commercial scales in cost-effective ways is the main aim of industries to compete with fossil fuels. Hence, it is vital to have a comprehensive knowledge of the previous findings and attain a suitable pathway for future studies/activities. In the present review paper, the potential of microalgae bioenergy production, influential parameters, previous experimental and theoretical studies, and different methods for microalgae biofuel production from cultivation stage to utilization are reviewed. Moreover, this work discusses the engineering activities and economic analysis of microalgae cultivation to utilization, and also useful suggestions are made for future research works. The outcomes of the present work confirm that innovative engineering methods can overcome scale-up challenging, increase the rate of production, and decrease the cost of algae bioenergy production. Hence, there is no long way to produce cost-effective algae bioenergy on commercial scales.

Goldsmit, J., R. W. Schlegel, K. Filbee-Dexter, K. A. MacGregor, L. E. Johnson, C. J. Mundy, A. M. Savoie, et al. 2021. Kelp in the Eastern Canadian Arctic: Current and Future Predictions of Habitat Suitability and Cover. Frontiers in Marine Science 18. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2021.742209

Climate change is transforming marine ecosystems through the expansion and contraction of species’ ranges. Sea ice loss and warming temperatures are expected to expand habitat availability for macroalgae along long stretches of Arctic coastlines. To better understand the current distribution of kelp…

Jayathilake, D. R. M., and M. J. Costello. 2020. A modelled global distribution of the kelp biome. Biological Conservation 252: 108815. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2020.108815

Kelp, seaweeds of the order Laminariales, are of ecological and conservation importance because they form undersea forest habitat for many varieties of fauna and flora including mammals, and commercial fish species. In the absence of a world map of the kelp biome, we predicted its potential distribu…

Holzmeyer, L., A.-K. Hartig, K. Franke, W. Brandt, A. N. Muellner-Riehl, L. A. Wessjohann, and J. Schnitzler. 2020. Evaluation of plant sources for antiinfective lead compound discovery by correlating phylogenetic, spatial, and bioactivity data. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 117: 12444–12451. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1915277117

Antibiotic resistance and viral diseases are rising around the world and are becoming major threats to global health, food security, and development. One measure that has been suggested to mitigate this crisis is the development of new antibiotics. Here, we provide a comprehensive evaluation of the …