Science Enabled by Specimen Data

Higino, G. T., F. Banville, G. Dansereau, N. R. Forero Muñoz, F. Windsor, and T. Poisot. 2023. Mismatch between IUCN range maps and species interactions data illustrated using the Serengeti food web. PeerJ 11: e14620.

Background Range maps are a useful tool to describe the spatial distribution of species. However, they need to be used with caution, as they essentially represent a rough approximation of a species’ suitable habitats. When stacked together, the resulting communities in each grid cell may not always be realistic, especially when species interactions are taken into account. Here we show the extent of the mismatch between range maps, provided by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and species interactions data. More precisely, we show that local networks built from those stacked range maps often yield unrealistic communities, where species of higher trophic levels are completely disconnected from primary producers. Methodology We used the well-described Serengeti food web of mammals and plants as our case study, and identify areas of data mismatch within predators’ range maps by taking into account food web structure. We then used occurrence data from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) to investigate where data is most lacking. Results We found that most predator ranges comprised large areas without any overlapping distribution of their prey. However, many of these areas contained GBIF occurrences of the predator. Conclusions Our results suggest that the mismatch between both data sources could be due either to the lack of information about ecological interactions or the geographical occurrence of prey. We finally discuss general guidelines to help identify defective data among distributions and interactions data, and we recommend this method as a valuable way to assess whether the occurrence data that are being used, even if incomplete, are ecologically accurate.

Xu, A., J. Zhang, Q. Li, Z. Li, and Q. Zhu. 2023. The benefits of being smaller: Consistent pattern for climate-induced range shift and morphological difference of three falconiforme species. Avian Research 14: 100079.

Climate exerts a dominant control over the distribution of species. Generally, species migrate to higher elevations to track thermal niches, but variations in morphological traits can result in trait-specific responses to climate change. Here we attempted to explore how three sympatrically distributed raptor species (the Upland Buzzard Buteo hemilasius, UB; the Common Kestrel, also called Eurasian ​Kestrel Falco tinnunculus, EK; and the Saker Falcon Falco cherrug, SF) would respond to climate change over time, and whether their responses would bias by different morphology. We tested the alternative hypotheses for Allen's rule for UB, EK, and SF in Qinghai Province, China, by modeling their current and future habitat suitability and confirming whether a consistent pattern exists between climate-induced range shifts and morphological differences among species. The extent of the projected distribution range within protected areas was also calculated for each species. We identified the future downward elevation shift for all the species, but with the notable northeastward shifting of the suitable climate space for UB and SF. Climate change would induce range contraction in the future, and the most acute influence is always the result of the pessimistic SSP585 scenario. No obvious pattern in climate-induced range shift was found for EK, for whom the morphological traits were significantly smaller all the time. More seriously, the ratios of highly suitable habitats being protected for our three raptor species were almost at a deficient level (below 1%). This study firstly tested the alternative hypothesis of Allen's rule among raptors in Qinghai Province unprecedently, confirmed the morphological basis for different responses to changing climate across species, and demonstrated the protection deficiency under the current protected area design. We advocate more related studies in the future to verify our findings across more taxa.

Kagnew, B., A. Assefa, and A. Degu. 2022. Modeling the Impact of Climate Change on Sustainable Production of Two Legumes Important Economically and for Food Security: Mungbeans and Cowpeas in Ethiopia. Sustainability 15: 600.

Climate change is one of the most serious threats to global crops production at present and it will continue to be the largest threat in the future worldwide. Knowing how climate change affects crop productivity might help sustainability and crop improvement efforts. Under existing and projected climate change scenarios (2050s and 2070s in Ethiopia), the effect of global warming on the distribution of V. radiata and V. unguiculata was investigated. MaxEnt models were used to predict the current and future distribution pattern changes of these crops in Ethiopia using different climate change scenarios (i.e., lowest (RCP 2.6), moderate (RCP 4.5), and extreme (RCP 8.5)) for the years 2050s and 2070s. The study includes 81 and 68 occurrence points for V. radiata and V. unguiculata, respectively, along with 22 environmental variables. The suitability maps indicate that the Beneshangul Gumuz, Oromia, Amhara, SNNPR, and Tigray regions are the major Ethiopian regions with the potential to produce V. radiata, while Amhara, Gambella, Oromia, SNNPR, and Tigray are suitable for producing V. unguiculata. The model prediction for V. radiata habitat ranges distribution in Ethiopia indicated that 1.69%, 4.27%, 11.25% and 82.79% are estimated to be highly suitable, moderately suitable, less suitable, and unsuitable, respectively. On the other hand, the distribution of V. unguiculata is predicted to have 1.27%, 3.07%, 5.22%, and 90.44% habitat ranges that are highly suitable, moderately suitable, less suitable, and unsuitable, respectively, under the current climate change scenario by the year (2050s and 2070s) in Ethiopia. Among the environmental variables, precipitation of the wettest quarter (Bio16), solar radiation index (SRI), temperature seasonality (Bio4), and precipitation seasonality (Bio15) are discovered to be the most effective factors for defining habitat suitability for V. radiata, while precipitation of the wettest quarter (Bio16), temperature annual range (Bio7) and precipitation of the driest quarter (Bio17) found to be better habitat suitability indicator for V. unguiculata in Ethiopia. The result indicates that these variables were more relevant in predicting suitable habitat for these crops in Ethiopia. A future projection predicts that the suitable distribution region will become increasingly fragmented. In general, the study provides a scientific basis of suitable agro-ecological habitat for V. radiata and V. unguiculata for long-term crop management and production improvement in Ethiopia. Therefore, projections of current and future climate change impacts on such crops are vital to reduce the risk of crop failure and to identify the potential productive areas in the country.

Chiarenza, A. A., A. M. Waterson, D. N. Schmidt, P. J. Valdes, C. Yesson, P. A. Holroyd, M. E. Collinson, et al. 2022. 100 million years of turtle paleoniche dynamics enable the prediction of latitudinal range shifts in a warming world. Current Biology.

Past responses to environmental change provide vital baseline data for estimating the potential resilience of extant taxa to future change. Here, we investigate the latitudinal range contraction that terrestrial and freshwater turtles (Testudinata) experienced from the Late Cretaceous to the Paleogene (100.5–23.03 mya) in response to major climatic changes. We apply ecological niche modeling (ENM) to reconstruct turtle niches, using ancient and modern distribution data, paleogeographic reconstructions, and the HadCM3L climate model to quantify their range shifts in the Cretaceous and late Eocene. We then use the insights provided by these models to infer their probable ecological responses to future climate scenarios at different representative concentration pathways (RCPs 4.5 and 8.5 for 2100), which project globally increased temperatures and spreading arid biomes at lower to mid-latitudes. We show that turtle ranges are predicted to expand poleward in the Northern Hemisphere, with decreased habitat suitability at lower latitudes, inverting a trend of latitudinal range contraction that has been prevalent since the Eocene. Trionychids and freshwater turtles can more easily track their niches than Testudinidae and other terrestrial groups. However, habitat destruction and fragmentation at higher latitudes will probably reduce the capability of turtles and tortoises to cope with future climate changes.

Ecke, F., B. A. Han, B. Hörnfeldt, H. Khalil, M. Magnusson, N. J. Singh, and R. S. Ostfeld. 2022. Population fluctuations and synanthropy explain transmission risk in rodent-borne zoonoses. Nature Communications 13.

Population fluctuations are widespread across the animal kingdom, especially in the order Rodentia, which includes many globally important reservoir species for zoonotic pathogens. The implications of these fluctuations for zoonotic spillover remain poorly understood. Here, we report a global empirical analysis of data describing the linkages between habitat use, population fluctuations and zoonotic reservoir status in rodents. Our quantitative synthesis is based on data collated from papers and databases. We show that the magnitude of population fluctuations combined with species’ synanthropy and degree of human exploitation together distinguish most rodent reservoirs at a global scale, a result that was consistent across all pathogen types and pathogen transmission modes. Our spatial analyses identified hotspots of high transmission risk, including regions where reservoir species dominate the rodent community. Beyond rodents, these generalities inform our understanding of how natural and anthropogenic factors interact to increase the risk of zoonotic spillover in a rapidly changing world. Many rodent species are known as hosts of zoonotic pathogens, but the ecological conditions that trigger spillover are not well-understood. Here, the authors show that population fluctuations and association with human-dominated habitats explain the zoonotic reservoir status of rodents globally.

Antonelli, A., R. J. Smith, A. L. Perrigo, A. Crottini, J. Hackel, W. Testo, H. Farooq, et al. 2022. Madagascar’s extraordinary biodiversity: Evolution, distribution, and use. Science 378.

Madagascar’s biota is hyperdiverse and includes exceptional levels of endemicity. We review the current state of knowledge on Madagascar’s past and current terrestrial and freshwater biodiversity by compiling and presenting comprehensive data on species diversity, endemism, and rates of species description and human uses, in addition to presenting an updated and simplified map of vegetation types. We report a substantial increase of records and species new to science in recent years; however, the diversity and evolution of many groups remain practically unknown (e.g., fungi and most invertebrates). Digitization efforts are increasing the resolution of species richness patterns and we highlight the crucial role of field- and collections-based research for advancing biodiversity knowledge and identifying gaps in our understanding, particularly as species richness corresponds closely to collection effort. Phylogenetic diversity patterns mirror that of species richness and endemism in most of the analyzed groups. We highlight humid forests as centers of diversity and endemism because of their role as refugia and centers of recent and rapid radiations. However, the distinct endemism of other areas, such as the grassland-woodland mosaic of the Central Highlands and the spiny forest of the southwest, is also biologically important despite lower species richness. The documented uses of Malagasy biodiversity are manifold, with much potential for the uncovering of new useful traits for food, medicine, and climate mitigation. The data presented here showcase Madagascar as a unique “living laboratory” for our understanding of evolution and the complex interactions between people and nature. The gathering and analysis of biodiversity data must continue and accelerate if we are to fully understand and safeguard this unique subset of Earth’s biodiversity.

Moreno, I., J. M. W. Gippet, L. Fumagalli, and P. J. Stephenson. 2022. Factors affecting the availability of data on East African wildlife: the monitoring needs of conservationists are not being met. Biodiversity and Conservation.

Understanding the status and abundance of species is essential for effective conservation decision-making. However, the availability of species data varies across space, taxonomic groups and data types. A case study was therefore conducted in a high biodiversity region—East Africa—to evaluate data biases, the factors influencing data availability, and the consequences for conservation. In each of the eleven target countries, priority animal species were identified as threatened species that are protected by national governments, international conventions or conservation NGOs. We assessed data gaps and biases in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility and the Living Planet Index. A survey of practitioners and decision makers was conducted to confirm and assess consequences of these biases on biodiversity conservation efforts. Our results showed data on species occurrence and population trends were available for a significantly higher proportion of vertebrates than invertebrates. We observed a geographical bias, with higher tourism income countries having more priority species and more species with data than lower tourism income countries. Conservationists surveyed felt that, of the 40 types of data investigated, those data that are most important to conservation projects are the most difficult to access. The main challenges to data accessibility are excessive expense, technological challenges, and a lack of resources to process and analyse data. With this information, practitioners and decision makers can prioritise how and where to fill gaps to improve data availability and use, and ensure biodiversity monitoring is improved and conservation impacts enhanced.

Zhang, D., H. She, F. E. Rheindt, L. Wu, H. Wang, K. Zhang, Y. Cheng, et al. 2022. Genomic and phenotypic changes associated with alterations of migratory behavior in a songbird. Molecular Ecology.

The seasonal migration of birds is a fascinating natural wonder. Avian migratory behavior changes are common and are likely a polygenic process, as avian migration is governed by multiple correlated components with a variable genetic basis. However, the genetic and phenotypic changes involving migration changes are poorly studied. Using one annotated near‐chromosomal level de novo genome assembly, 50 re‐sequenced genomes, hundreds of morphometric data and species distribution information, we investigate population structure and genomic and phenotypic differences associated with differences in migratory behavior in a songbird species, Yellow‐throated Bunting Emberiza elegans (Aves: Emberizidae). Population genomic analyses reveal extensive gene flow between the southern resident and the northern migratory populations of this species. The hand‐wing index is significantly lower in the resident populations than in the migratory populations, indicating reduced flight efficiency of the resident populations. We discuss the possibility that non‐migratory populations may have originated from migratory populations though migration loss. We further infer that the alterations of genes related to energy metabolism, nervous system and circadian rhythm may have played major roles in regulating migration change. Our study sheds light on phenotypic and polygenic changes involving migration change.

Subedi, T. R., J. M. Peréz‐García, S. Gurung, H. S. Baral, M. Z. Virani, S. A. M. Sah, and J. D. Anadón. 2022. Global range dynamics of the Bearded Vulture ( Gypaetus barbatus ) from the Last Glacial Maxima to climate change scenarios. Ibis.

Species’ ranges are dynamic, particularly at large temporal scales. The reconstruction of range dynamics has an obvious biogeographical interest, and it might also help to frame current knowledge on the ecology and conservation of a species within a wider biogeographical context. The Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus is a charismatic high‐altitude species occurring along mountain ranges of the Old World. The species has experienced a global range contraction in the last century mainly due to unintentional poisoning and direct persecution. Despite its declining status and high habitat specialization, little is known about how climate change is impacting the distribution of suitable habitat, or about global past range dynamics of the species. We modelled the current distribution of Bearded Vulture throughout its entire range and projected the Last Glacial Maxima (LGM), Mid‐Holocene (MH) and future distribution under 2070s climate change scenarios. Overall, our models predicted that expansion of suitable areas on more northern latitudes for 2070, mostly in Russia and China, does not compensate for range contraction on more southern latitudes, resulting in a global loss of 15% of suitable habitat. Our fine scale predictions of habitat contraction due to climate change will assist in identifying current portions of the range that might be particularly vulnerable in coming years. African populations (34% decrease) and more thermic areas in Asia are the most impacted areas, and should be at the forefront of future monitoring and conservation efforts. Our models suggest that the predicted contraction in habitat suitability during the 21st century largely continues the contraction experienced since the LGM (7% decline), albeit over a much shorter period of time. From a biogeographic perspective, our models suggest that there have not been relevant changes in the arrangement of main suitable areas for the species since the LGM. This result challenges some of the main hypotheses proposed to explain the observed genetic structure of the global population.

Oliveira-Dalland, L. G., L. R. V. Alencar, L. R. Tambosi, P. A. Carrasco, R. M. Rautsaw, J. Sigala-Rodriguez, G. Scrocchi, and M. Martins. 2022. Conservation gaps for Neotropical vipers: Mismatches between protected areas, species richness and evolutionary distinctiveness. Biological Conservation 275: 109750.

The continuous decline in biodiversity despite global efforts to create new protected areas calls into question the effectiveness of these areas in conserving biodiversity. Numerous habitats are absent from the global protected area network, and certain taxonomic groups are not being included in conservation planning. Here, we analyzed the level of protection that the current protected area system provides to viper species in the Neotropical region through a conservation gap analysis. We used distribution size and degree of threat to set species-specific conservation goals for 123 viper species in the form of minimum percentage of their distribution that should be covered by protected areas, and assessed the level of protection provided for each species by overlapping their distribution with protected areas of strict protection. Furthermore, using species richness and evolutionary distinctiveness as priority indicators, we conducted a spatial association analysis to detect areas of special concern. We found that most viper species have <1/4 of their distribution covered by protected areas, including 22 threatened species. Also, the large majority of cells containing high levels of species richness were significantly absent from protected areas, while evolutionary distinctiveness was particularly unprotected in regions with relatively low species richness, like northern Mexico and the Argentinian dry Chaco. Our results provide further evidence that vipers are largely being excluded from conservation planning, leaving them exposed to serious threats that can lead to population decline and ultimately extinction.