Science Enabled by Specimen Data

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. https://doi.org/10.1093/evolut/qpae034

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.

Souto, C. P., L. P. Zalazar, M. Tadey, and A. C. Premoli. 2024. Modeling past, present and future: Species-specific responses to climate changes in three shrub congeners from south American drylands. Journal of Arid Environments 221: 105139. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaridenv.2024.105139

Drylands cover ca. 40% of the land global surface and deliver significant ecosystem services. These regions are the most sensitive, prone to suffer the effects of climate and distribution changes, so estimates on projected range shifts are crucial to complement traditional approaches to biodiversity conservation and sustainability. Shrubs of the Monte Desert dominate the largest temperate dryland in South America. Our goal is to assess the spatial distribution and niche overlap of three native shrubs (Larrea cuneifolia (LC), L. divaricata (LD), and L. nitida (LN)), under present climate conditions, to retrodict their potential past distribution, and anticipate their predicted range under future climate scenarios. We used ecological niche modeling that were projected to the past (LGM and Mid Holocene) and future (2050 and 2070) under two scenarios of greenhouse gas emissions and two model of global circulation. All species have high niche overlap (67–89%), but showed species-specific responses, highlighting the need to develop mitigation measures particularly for LD and LN in the face of climate change and land use pressures. Global South deserts are being highly degraded and information on future potential ranges of endemic species can support the development of sustainable conservation and management plans.

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. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41477-024-01649-4

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. https://doi.org/10.1111/nph.19601

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.

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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocontrol.2024.105461

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. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0281408

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.

Liendo, D., J. A. Campos, and A. Gandarillas. 2023. Cortaderia selloana, an example of aggressive invaders that affect human health, yet to be included in binding international invasive catalogues. NeoBiota 89: 229–237. https://doi.org/10.3897/neobiota.89.110500

Invasive plant species can suppress local biodiversity, affect soil properties and modify the landscape. However, an additional concern of plant invasions that has been more disregarded is their impact on environmental human health. Here, we discuss the case of Cortaderia selloana (Schult. & Schult.f.) Asch. & Graebn, as an example of a worldwide invasive species with a strong environmental impact. We summarise the main facts regarding the C. selloana invasion, the recent clinical evidence of its impact on human health and the great potential expansion of the species in the context of climate change. C. selloana constitutes a clear example to boost demands from policy makers for urgent and efficient measures to control or eradicate invasive species, also in ruderal areas. This aggressive invader is still out of relevant binding international invasive species catalogues, including the European List of Invasive Alien Species of Union concern (Union list), and is still subjected to extensive trading in some European countries. Therefore, including C. selloana in the Union list becomes mandatory to impose full restrictions on keeping, importing, selling, breeding and cultivating the species.

Putra, A. R., K. A. Hodgins, and A. Fournier‐Level. 2023. Assessing the invasive potential of different source populations of ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia L.) through genomically informed species distribution modelling. Evolutionary Applications. https://doi.org/10.1111/eva.13632

The genetic composition of founding populations is likely to play a key role in determining invasion success. Individual genotypes may differ in habitat preference and environmental tolerance, so their ability to colonize novel environments can be highly variable. Despite the importance of genetic variation on invasion success, its influence on the potential distribution of invaders is rarely investigated. Here, we integrate population genomics and ecological niche models (ENMs) into a single framework to predict the distribution of globally invasive common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) in Australia. We identified three genetic clusters for ragweed and used these to construct cluster‐specific ENMs and characterize within‐species niche differentiation. The potential range of ragweed in Australia depended on the genetic composition and continent of origin of the introduced population. Invaders originating from warmer, wetter climates had a broader potential distribution than those from cooler, drier ones. By quantifying this change, we identified source populations most likely to expand the ragweed distribution. As prevention remains the most effective method of invasive species management, our work provides a valuable way of ranking the threat posed by different populations to better inform management decisions.

Issaly, E. A., M. C. Baranzelli, N. Rocamundi, A. M. Ferreiro, L. A. Johnson, A. N. Sérsic, and V. Paiaro. 2023. Too much water under the bridge: unraveling the worldwide invasion of the tree tobacco through genetic and ecological approaches. Biological Invasions. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-023-03189-y

Understanding how, and from where, invasive species were introduced is critical for revealing the invasive mechanism, explaining the invasion success, and providing crucial insights for effective management. Here, we combined a phylogeographic approach with ecological niche modeling comparisons to elucidate the introduction mode and source of Nicotiana glauca , a native South American species that is now invasive worldwide. We tested three different scenarios based on the invasion source—random native, restricted native, and bridgehead invasive—considering genetic diversity and climatic niche comparisons among native and invaded areas. We found three genetic lineages geographically and climatically differentiated within the native range. Only one of these genetic groups contained the invasive haplotypes, but showed no climatic niche overlap with any invaded area. Conversely, one invaded area located in western South America, with more genetic diversity than other invaded areas but less than the native range, showed climatic niche overlap with almost all other invaded areas worldwide. These findings indicate that N. glauca first likely invaded the southernmost areas beyond its native range, forming a bridgehead invasive source, from which the species subsequently invaded other regions around the world. Invasiveness would have been fostered by changes in the environmental preferences of the species in the bridgehead area, towards drier, colder and less seasonal climates, becoming the actual source of invasion to areas climatically similar throughout the world. The fine scale resolution analyses combining genetic and climatic approaches within the native range were essential to illuminating the introduction scenario of this invasive species.

Kudoh, A., J. P. Megonigal, J. A. Langley, G. L. Noyce, T. Sakai, and D. F. Whigham. 2023. Reproductive Responses to Increased Shoot Density and Global Change Drivers in a Widespread Clonal Wetland Species, Schoenoplectus americanus. Estuaries and Coasts. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12237-023-01249-z

The expansion of many wetland species is a function of both clonal propagation and sexual reproduction. The production of ramets through clonal propagation enables plants to move and occupy space near parent ramets, while seeds produced by sexual reproduction enable species to disperse and colonize open or disturbed sites both near and far from parents. The balance between clonal propagation and sexual reproduction is known to vary with plant density but few studies have focused on reproductive allocation with density changes in response to global climate change. Schoenoplectus americanus is a widespread clonal wetland species in North America and a dominant species in Chesapeake Bay brackish tidal wetlands. Long-term experiments on responses of S . americanus to global change provided the opportunity to compare the two modes of propagation under different treatments. Seed production increased with increasing shoot density, supporting the hypothesis that factors causing increased clonal reproduction (e.g., higher shoot density) stimulate sexual reproduction and dispersal of genets. The increase in allocation to sexual reproduction was mainly the result of an increase in the number of ramets that flowered and not an increase in the number of seeds per reproductive shoot, or the ratio between the number of flowers produced per inflorescence and the number of flowers that developed into seeds. Seed production increased in response to increasing temperatures and decreased or did not change in response to increased CO 2 or nitrogen. Results from this comparative study demonstrate that plant responses to global change treatments affect resource allocation and can alter the ability of species to produce seeds.