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Science Enabled by Specimen Data

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.

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.

Robin-Champigneul, F., J. Gravendyck, H. Huang, A. Woutersen, D. Pocknall, N. Meijer, G. Dupont-Nivet, et al. 2023. Northward expansion of the southern-temperate podocarp forest during the Early Eocene Climatic Optimum: Palynological evidence from the NE Tibetan Plateau (China). Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology: 104914.

The debated vegetation response to climate change can be investigated through palynological fossil records from past extreme climate conditions. In this context, the early Eocene (53.3 to 41.2 million years ago (Ma)) is often referred to as a model for a greenhouse Earth. In the Xining Basin, situated on the North-eastern Tibetan Plateau (NETP), this time interval is represented by an extensive and well-dated sedimentary sequence of evaporites and red mudstones. Here we focus on the palynological record of the Early Eocene Climatic Optimum (EECO; 53.3 to 49.1 Ma) and study the fossil gymnosperm pollen composition in these sediments. In addition, we also investigate the nearest living relatives (NLR) or botanical affinity of these genera and the paleobiogeographic implications of their occurrence in the Eocene of the NETP. To reach our objective, we complemented transmitted light microscopy with laser scanning- and electron microscopy techniques, to produce high-resolution images, and illustrate the morphological variation within fossil and extant gymnosperm pollen. Furthermore, a morphometric analysis was carried out to investigate the infra- and intrageneric variation of these and related taxa. To place the data in context we produced paleobiogeographic maps for Phyllocladidites and for other Podocarpaceae, based on data from a global fossil pollen data base, and compare these with modern records from GBIF. We also assessed the climatic envelope of the NLR. Our analyses confirm the presence of Phyllocladidites (NLR Phyllocladus, Podocarpaceae) and Podocarpidites (NLR Podocarpus, Podocarpaceae) in the EECO deposits in the Xining Basin. In addition, a comparative study based on literature suggests that Parcisporites is likely a younger synonym of Phyllocladidites. Our findings further suggest that the Phyllocladidites specimens are derived from a lineage that was much more diverse than previously thought, and which had a much larger biogeographical distribution during the EECO than at present. Based on the climatic envelope of the NLR, we suggest that the paleoclimatic conditions in the Xining Basin were warmer and more humid during the EECO. We conclude that phylloclade-type conifers typical of the southern-temperate podocarp forests, had a northward geographical expansion during the EECO, followed by extirpation.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Quiroga, M. P., and C. P. Souto. 2022. Ecological niche modeling, niche overlap, and good old Rabinowitz’s rarities applied to the conservation of gymnosperms in a global biodiversity hotspot. Landscape Ecology.

Context Biodiversity hotspots harbor 77% of endemic plant species. Patagonian Temperate Forest (PTF) is a part of a biodiversity hotspot, but over the past centuries, has been over-exploited, fragmented and replaced with exotic species plantations, lately also threatened by climate change. Objectives Our aim is to better understand patterns of habitat suitability and niche overlap of nine endemic gymnosperm species, key elements of the PTF, complementing traditional approaches of biodiversity conservation. Methods Using R packages and 3016 occurrence data, we deployed ecological niche models (ENM) in MaxEnt via kuenm, and classified species according to Rabinowitz’s types of rarity. We then overlapped their niches calculating Schoener's D index, and considered types of rarity in a spatial ecological context. Finally, we overlay high species’ suitability and protected areas and detected conservation priorities using GapAnalysis. Results We generated simplified ENMs for nine Patagonian gymnosperms and found that most niches overlap, and only one species displayed a unique niche. Surprisingly, we found that three species have divergent suitability of habitats across the landscape and not related with previously published geographic structure of neutral genetic variation. We showed that the rarer a species is the smaller niche volume tend to have, that six out of nine studied species have high conservation priority, and that there are conservation gaps in the PTF. Conclusion Our approach showed that there are unprotected suitable areas for native key species at high risk in PTF. Suggesting that integrating habitat-suitability models of multiple species, types of rarity, and niche overlap, can be a handy tool to identify potential conservation areas in global biodiversity hotspots.

To clarify biogeographic patterns of two mushroom species (Phallus merulinus and Geastrum courtecuissei) previously reported from Myanmar, sequence data of the internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region of nuclear ribosomal DNA were retrieved from GenBank. The BLAST search and phylogenetic analyses of Phallus indicated that P. merulinus and P. atrovolvatus from wide areas, including Australia, Myanmar, Thailand, Brazil, and French Guiana, cannot be distinguished molecularly. The species was, therefore, considered widespread across tropical to subtropical regions. In contrast, G. courtecuissei from Myanmar was tightly clustered exclusively with G. courtecuissei from Central and South America, supporting the idea of its disjunct distribution between Southeast Asia (Myanmar) and Central-South Americas.

Ramirez-Villegas, J., C. K. Khoury, H. A. Achicanoy, M. V. Diaz, A. C. Mendez, C. C. Sosa, Z. Kehel, et al. 2022. State of ex situ conservation of landrace groups of 25 major crops. Nature Plants 8: 491–499.

Crop landraces have unique local agroecological and societal functions and offer important genetic resources for plant breeding. Recognition of the value of landrace diversity and concern about its erosion on farms have led to sustained efforts to establish ex situ collections worldwide. The degree to which these efforts have succeeded in conserving landraces has not been comprehensively assessed. Here we modelled the potential distributions of eco-geographically distinguishable groups of landraces of 25 cereal, pulse and starchy root/tuber/fruit crops within their geographic regions of diversity. We then analysed the extent to which these landrace groups are represented in genebank collections, using geographic and ecological coverage metrics as a proxy for genetic diversity. We find that ex situ conservation of landrace groups is currently moderately comprehensive on average, with substantial variation among crops; a mean of 63% ± 12.6% of distributions is currently represented in genebanks. Breadfruit, bananas and plantains, lentils, common beans, chickpeas, barley and bread wheat landrace groups are among the most fully represented, whereas the largest conservation gaps persist for pearl millet, yams, finger millet, groundnut, potatoes and peas. Geographic regions prioritized for further collection of landrace groups for ex situ conservation include South Asia, the Mediterranean and West Asia, Mesoamerica, sub-Saharan Africa, the Andean mountains of South America and Central to East Asia. With further progress to fill these gaps, a high degree of representation of landrace group diversity in genebanks is feasible globally, thus fulfilling international targets for their ex situ conservation. By analysing the state of representation of traditional varieties of 25 major crops in ex situ repositories, this study demonstrates conservation progress made over more than a half-century and identifies the gaps remaining to be filled.

Reichgelt, T., D. R. Greenwood, S. Steinig, J. G. Conran, D. K. Hutchinson, D. J. Lunt, L. J. Scriven, and J. Zhu. 2022. Plant Proxy Evidence for High Rainfall and Productivity in the Eocene of Australia. Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology 37.

During the early to middle Eocene, a mid‐to‐high latitudinal position and enhanced hydrological cycle in Australia would have contributed to a wetter and “greener” Australian continent where today arid to semi‐arid climates dominate. Here, we revisit 12 southern Australian plant megafossil sites from the early to middle Eocene to generate temperature, precipitation and seasonality paleoclimate estimates, net primary productivity (NPP) and vegetation type, based on paleobotanical proxies and compare to early Eocene global climate models. Temperature reconstructions are uniformly subtropical (mean annual, summer, and winter mean temperatures 19–21 °C, 25–27 °C and 14–16 °C, respectively), indicating that southern Australia was ∼5 °C warmer than today, despite a >20° poleward shift from its modern geographic location. Precipitation was less homogeneous than temperature, with mean annual precipitation of ∼60 cm over inland sites and >100 cm over coastal sites. Precipitation may have been seasonal with the driest month receiving 2–7× less than mean monthly precipitation. Proxy‐model comparison is favorable with an 1680 ppm CO2 concentration. However, individual proxy reconstructions can disagree with models as well as with each other. In particular, seasonality reconstructions have systemic offsets. NPP estimates were higher than modern, implying a more homogenously “green” southern Australia in the early to middle Eocene, when this part of Australia was at 48–64 °S, and larger carbon fluxes to and from the Australian biosphere. The most similar modern vegetation type is modern‐day eastern Australian subtropical forest, although distance from coast and latitude may have led to vegetation heterogeneity.

Sluiter, I. R. K., G. R. Holdgate, T. Reichgelt, D. R. Greenwood, A. P. Kershaw, and N. L. Schultz. 2022. A new perspective on Late Eocene and Oligocene vegetation and paleoclimates of South-eastern Australia. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 596: 110985.

We present a composite terrestrial pollen record of latest Eocene through Oligocene (35.5–23 Ma) vegetation and climate change from the Gippsland Basin of south-eastern Australia. Climates were overwhelmingly mesothermic through this time period, with mean annual temperature (MAT) varying between 13 and 18 °C, with an average of 16 °C. We provide evidence to support a cooling trend through the Eocene–Oligocene Transition (EOT), but also identify three subsequent warming cycles through the Oligocene, leading to more seasonal climates at the termination of the Epoch. One of the warming episodes in the Early Oligocene appears to have also occurred at two other southern hemisphere sites at the Drake Passage as well as off eastern Tasmania, based on recent research. Similarities with sea surface temperature records from modern high southern latitudes which also record similar cycles of warming and cooling, are presented and discussed. Annual precipitation varied between 1200 and 1700 mm/yr, with an average of 1470 mm/yr through the sequence. Notwithstanding the extinction of Nothofagus sg. Brassospora from Australia and some now microthermic humid restricted Podocarpaceae conifer taxa, the rainforest vegetation of lowland south-eastern Australia is reconstructed to have been similar to present day Australian Evergreen Notophyll Vine Forests existing under the sub-tropical Köppen-Geiger climate class Cfa (humid subtropical) for most of the sequence. Short periods of cooler climates, such as occurred through the EOT when MAT was ~ 13 °C, may have supported vegetation similar to modern day Evergreen Microphyll Fern Forest. Of potentially greater significance, however, was a warm period in the Early to early Late Oligocene (32–26 Ma) when MAT was 17–18 °C, accompanied by small but important increases in Araucariaceae pollen. At this time, Araucarian Notophyll/Microphyll Vine Forest likely occurred regionally.

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.

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…