Science Enabled by Specimen Data

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.

Maurin, O., A. Anest, F. Forest, I. Turner, R. L. Barrett, R. C. Cowan, L. Wang, et al. 2023. Drift in the tropics: Phylogenetics and biogeographical patterns in Combretaceae. Global Ecology and Biogeography. https://doi.org/10.1111/geb.13737

Aim The aim of this study was to further advance our understanding of the species-rich, and ecologically important angiosperm family Combretaceae to provide new insights into their evolutionary history. We assessed phylogenetic relationships in the family using target capture data and produced a dated phylogenetic tree to assess fruit dispersal modes and patterns of distribution. Location Tropical and subtropical regions. Time Period Cretaceous to present. Major Taxa Studied Family Combretaceae is a member of the rosid clade and comprises 10 genera and more than 500 species, predominantly assigned to genera Combretum and Terminalia, and occurring on all continents and in a wide range of ecosystems. Methods We use a target capture approach and the Angiosperms353 universal probes to reconstruct a robust dated phylogenetic tree for the family. This phylogenetic framework, combined with seed dispersal traits, biome data and biogeographic ranges, allows the reconstruction of the biogeographical history of the group. Results Ancestral range reconstructions suggest a Gondwanan origin (Africa/South America), with several intercontinental dispersals within the family and few transitions between biomes. Relative abundance of fruit dispersal types differed by both continent and biome. However, intercontinental colonizations were only significantly enhanced by water dispersal (drift fruit), and there was no evidence that seed dispersal modes influenced biome shifts. Main Conclusions Our analysis reveals a paradox as drift fruit greatly enhanced dispersal distances at intercontinental scale but did not affect the strong biome conservatism observed.

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.

Meller, P., M. Stellmes, A. Fidelis, and M. Finckh. 2022. Correlates of geoxyle diversity in Afrotropical grasslands. Journal of Biogeography 49: 339–352. https://doi.org/10.1111/jbi.14305

Aim: Tropical old-growth grasslands are increasingly acknowledged as biodiverse ecosystems, but they are understudied in many aspects. Geoxyle species are a key component in many of these ecosystems, their belowground storage organs and bud banks are functionally diverse and contribute to the grassl…

Xue, T., S. R. Gadagkar, T. P. Albright, X. Yang, J. Li, C. Xia, J. Wu, and S. Yu. 2021. Prioritizing conservation of biodiversity in an alpine region: Distribution pattern and conservation status of seed plants in the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. Global Ecology and Conservation 32: e01885. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gecco.2021.e01885

The Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau (QTP) harbors abundant and diverse plant life owing to its high habitat heterogeneity. However, the distribution pattern of biodiversity hotspots and their conservation status remain unclear. Based on 148,283 high-resolution occurrence coordinates of 13,450 seed plants, w…

Catarino, S., M. Brilhante, A. P. Essoh, A. B. Charrua, J. Rangel, G. Roxo, E. Varela, et al. 2021. Exploring physicochemical and cytogenomic diversity of African cowpea and common bean. Scientific Reports 11. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-91929-2

In sub-Saharan Africa, grain legumes (pulses) are essential food sources and play an important role in sustainable agriculture. Among the major pulse crops, the native cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) and introduced common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) stand out. This paper has two main goals. First, we provi…

Goodwin, Z. A., P. Muñoz-Rodríguez, D. J. Harris, T. Wells, J. R. I. Wood, D. Filer, and R. W. Scotland. 2020. How long does it take to discover a species? Systematics and Biodiversity 18: 784–793. https://doi.org/10.1080/14772000.2020.1751339

The description of a new species is a key step in cataloguing the World’s flora. However, this is only a preliminary stage in a long process of understanding what that species represents. We investigated how long the species discovery process takes by focusing on three key stages: 1, the collection …

Figueira, R., and F. Lages. 2019. Museum and Herbarium Collections for Biodiversity Research in Angola. Biodiversity of Angola: 513–542. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-03083-4_19

The importance of museum and herbarium collections is especially great in biodiverse countries such as Angola, an importance as great as the challenges facing the effective and sustained management of such facilities. The interface that Angola represents between tropical humid climates and semi-dese…