Science Enabled by Specimen Data

Reichgelt, T., A. Baumgartner, R. Feng, and D. A. Willard. 2023. Poleward amplification, seasonal rainfall and forest heterogeneity in the Miocene of the eastern USA. Global and Planetary Change 222: 104073. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloplacha.2023.104073

Paleoclimate reconstructions can provide a window into the environmental conditions in Earth history when atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations were higher than today. In the eastern USA, paleoclimate reconstructions are sparse, because terrestrial sedimentary deposits are rare. Despite this, the eastern USA has the largest population and population density in North America, and understanding the effects of current and future climate change is of vital importance. Here, we provide terrestrial paleoclimate reconstructions of the eastern USA from Miocene fossil floras. Additionally, we compare proxy paleoclimate reconstructions from the warmest period in the Miocene, the Miocene Climatic Optimum (MCO), to those of an MCO Earth System Model. Reconstructed Miocene temperatures and precipitation north of 35°N are higher than modern. In contrast, south of 35°N, temperatures and precipitation are similar to today, suggesting a poleward amplification effect in eastern North America. Reconstructed Miocene rainfall seasonality was predominantly higher than modern, regardless of latitude, indicating greater variability in intra-annual moisture transport. Reconstructed climates are almost uniformly in the temperate seasonal forest biome, but heterogeneity of specific forest types is evident. Reconstructed Miocene terrestrial temperatures from the eastern USA are lower than modeled temperatures and coeval Atlantic sea surface temperatures. However, reconstructed rainfall is consistent with modeled rainfall. Our results show that during the Miocene, climate was most different from modern in the northeastern states, and may suggest a drastic reduction in the meridional temperature gradient along the North American east coast compared to today.

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.

Nuñez Landa, M. de L., J. C. Montero Castro, T. C. Monterrubio-Rico, S. I. Lara-Cabrera, and D. A. Prieto-Torres. 2023. Predicting co-distribution patterns of parrots and woody plants under global changes: The case of the Lilac-crowned Amazon and Neotropical dry forests. Journal for Nature Conservation 71: 126323. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnc.2022.126323

Global climate and land-use changes are the most significant causes of the current habitat loss and biodiversity crisis. Although there is information measuring these global changes, we lack a full understanding of how they impact community assemblies and species interactions across ecosystems. Herein, we assessed the potential distribution of eight key woody plant species associated with the habitat of the endangered Lilac-crowned Amazon (Amazon finschi) under global changes scenarios (2050′s and 2070′s), to answer the following questions: (1) how do predicted climate and land-use changes impact these species’ individual distributions and co-distribution patterns?; and (2) how effective is the existing Protected Area network for safeguarding the parrot species, the plant species, and their biological interactions? Our projections were consistent identifying the species that are most vulnerable to climate change. The distribution ranges of most of the species tended to decrease under future climates. These effects were strongly exacerbated when incorporating land-use changes into models. Even within existing protected areas, >50 % of the species’ remaining distribution and sites with the highest plant richness were predicted to be lost in the future under these combined scenarios. Currently, both individual species ranges and sites of highest richness of plants, shelter a high proportion (ca. 40 %) of the Lilac-crowned Amazon distribution. However, this spatial congruence could be reduced in the future, potentially disrupting the ecological associations among these taxa. We provide novel evidence for decision-makers to enhance conservation efforts to attain the long-term protection of this endangered Mexican endemic parrot and its habitat.

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.

Marques-Souza, S., K. C. M. Pellegrino, T. O. Brunes, F. J. M. Rojas-Runjaic, and M. T. Rodrigues. 2022. A molecular perspective on the systematics and distribution of Loxopholis lizards in South and Central America, with advances on the biogeography of the tribe Ecpleopodini (Gymnophthalmidae: Squamata). Systematics and Biodiversity 20. https://doi.org/10.1080/14772000.2022.2119295

Knowledge about the biological diversification of vertebrates in the Amazonia has previously relied on taxa that diversified in relatively recent timeframes (i.e. Plio-Pleistocene). Dating of evolutionary events in small lizards and frogs, on the other hand, has progressively demonstrated that the major phylogenetic events in these organisms occurred earlier in time, from the Eocene to the Miocene, opening a window to reveal the Amazonia’s landscape dynamics throughout ancient periods. Here we investigate the phylogenetic relationships, diversification times, and biogeography of Loxopholis, a diverse genus of small leaf-litter ecpleopodin lizards endemic to the Amazonia. In order to place Loxopholis diversity into a larger taxonomic perspective, we used statistical biogeographic methods (BioGeoBEARS) to reconstruct the biogeography of the Ecpleopodini tribe. We found that the evolution of the Ecpleopodini occurred mostly in the Amazonia’s north region. Additionally, we found evidence that contacts between the Amazonia and the Atlantic Forest took place multiple times during the Cenozoic (earlier than previously proposed) and that these events influenced species colonization of open environments in South America via the Vanishing Refuge model. Our hypothesis on the evolution of Loxopholis, in contrast, suggests that multiple processes acted on the current species distribution, including three main dispersal events: the emergence of Lake Pebas, the rising of the Iquitos arch, the Andean orogeny and the emergence of the Panama Isthmus.

Aguirre‐Liguori, J. A., A. Morales‐Cruz, and B. S. Gaut. 2022. Evaluating the persistence and utility of five wild Vitis species in the context of climate change. Molecular Ecology. https://doi.org/10.1111/mec.16715

Crop wild relatives (CWRs) have the capacity to contribute novel traits to agriculture. Given climate change, these contributions may be especially vital for the persistence of perennial crops, because perennials are often clonally propagated and consequently do not evolve rapidly. By studying the landscape genomics of samples from five Vitis CWRs (V. arizonica, V. mustangensis, V. riparia, V. berlandieri and V. girdiana) in the context of projected climate change, we addressed two goals. The first was to assess the relative potential of different CWR accessions to persist in the face of climate change. By integrating species distribution models with adaptive genetic variation, additional genetic features such as genomic load and a phenotype (resistance to Pierce’s Disease), we predicted that accessions from one species (V. mustangensis) are particularly well‐suited to persist in future climates. The second goal was to identify which CWR accessions may contribute to bioclimatic adaptation for grapevine (V. vinifera) cultivation. To do so, we evaluated whether CWR accessions have the allelic capacity to persist if moved to locations where grapevines (V. vinifera) are cultivated in the United States. We identified six candidates from V. mustangensis and hypothesized that they may prove useful for contributing alleles that can mitigate climate impacts on viticulture. By identifying candidate germplasm, this work takes a conceptual step toward assessing the genomic and bioclimatic characteristics of CWRs.

Castaño-Quintero, S. M., J. Escobar-Luján, F. Villalobos, L. M. Ochoa-Ochoa, and C. Yáñez-Arenas. 2022. Amphibian Diversity of the Yucatan Peninsula: Representation in Protected Areas and Climate Change Impacts. Diversity 14: 813. https://doi.org/10.3390/d14100813

Knowledge about the dynamics of regional diversity patterns is a foundation on which measures aimed to protect diversity dimensions in the light of climate change can be constructed. Here, we describe taxonomic, phylogenetic, and functional diversity patterns of amphibians in the Yucatan Peninsula and their representation in the current protected area system. We stacked current and future potential distribution models to estimate taxonomic diversity and, based on the most recent amphibian phylogeny and nine functional traits, we measured phylogenetic and functional diversity. Independent phylogenetic and functional metrics were obtained by applying null models that allowed us to identify the presumably signature mechanisms underlying assemblage formation. We evaluated the effectiveness of the protected areas in protecting diversity dimensions across scenarios. We found phylogenetic and functional clustering as a result of environmental filters that have allowed only recently diverged species with converged functional traits to establish. Nevertheless, random assemblages are more widespread possibly due to the opposite directions in which competition and environmental filtering are acting. Overall, a decrease in all diversity dimensions is projected under future climate change scenarios compared with the current time. None of the protected areas evaluated were effective in protecting diversity dimensions, stressing the need to complete the existing protected areas network.

Coca‐de‐la‐Iglesia, M., N. G. Medina, J. Wen, and V. Valcárcel. 2022. Evaluation of the tropical‐temperate transitions: An example of climatic characterization in the Asian Palmate group of Araliaceae. American Journal of Botany. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajb2.16059

(no abstract available)

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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2022.109677

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.