Science Enabled by Specimen Data

Amin, H., and A. Borzée. 2024. Understanding the Distribution, Behavioural Ecology, and Conservation Status of Asian Pelophylax. Diversity 16: 259. https://doi.org/10.3390/d16050259

Understanding species from an ecological and phylogenetic perspective facilitates an understanding of their conservation status in relation to the changing world. The frog genus Pelophylax is among the largest in terms of amphibian biomass in the Palearctic, but species have not been thoroughly studied at the Asian continental scale. The phylogeographic relationship, behavioural ecology, and ecological requirements within the genus need clarification, despite generally good local coverage. Here, for the first time, we conducted a literature review focused on phylogeography and behavioural ecology, supported by ecological niche modelling of twelve Asian Pelophylax lineages. Finally, we compiled the known threats for each of the lineages. We first determined the presence of twelve species and species-candidate lineages. In terms of behavioural ecology, the main difference among lineages is the time to metamorphosis and the time to reach sexual maturity. The ecological models highlighted a match between the known presence of each clade and their suitable habitat and highlighted the Syr Darya drainage on the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea for the non-described Pelophylax “Syr Darya lineage”. Finally, we highlighted the greatest variation among lineages in terms of threats, as some lineages are threatened by numerous factors, whereas others are expanding.

Owen, E., M. Zuliani, M. Goldgisser, and C. Lortie. 2024. The importance of native shrubs on the distribution and diversity of reptiles and amphibians in the central drylands of Southwestern USA. Biodiversity and Conservation 33: 2131–2151. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-024-02851-8

Conservation and management of drylands is a global challenge. Key attributes of these ecosystems, such as dominant vegetation including shrubs, can provide a crucial mechanism to inform conservation strategies. The shrub species Ephedra californica and Larrea tridentata are common native shrub species within the deserts of California and frequently benefit other plant and animal species. Here, we tested the hypothesis that shrubs support reptile and amphibian communities through relative increases in available habitat, estimated through increasing shrub densities at the site level. Reported occurrence data from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) and high-resolution satellite images were used to test for local-to-regional patterns in reptile and amphibian distribution and diversity by shrub densities at sites. At 43 distinct sites, the relationship between shrub density and reported reptile and amphibian communities was also tested. A total of 71 reptile and amphibian species were reported regionally. Increases in shrub density across sites positively influenced the relative abundance and richness of reptiles and amphibians observed. Moreover, increasing shrub density also had a positive influence on species evenness. Aridity differences between sites did not significantly influence the relationship between shrub density and reptiles and amphibians suggesting that the relationship was robust. This study highlights the importance of foundational shrub species in supporting reptile and amphibian communities in arid and semi-arid regions. Large-scale patterns of biodiversity in deserts can be supported by positive plant-animal interactions including small islands of fertility and resources for animals in the context of a warming climate.

Serra‐Diaz, J. M., J. Borderieux, B. Maitner, C. C. F. Boonman, D. Park, W. Guo, A. Callebaut, et al. 2024. occTest: An integrated approach for quality control of species occurrence data. Global Ecology and Biogeography. https://doi.org/10.1111/geb.13847

Aim Species occurrence data are valuable information that enables one to estimate geographical distributions, characterize niches and their evolution, and guide spatial conservation planning. Rapid increases in species occurrence data stem from increasing digitization and aggregation efforts, and citizen science initiatives. However, persistent quality issues in occurrence data can impact the accuracy of scientific findings, underscoring the importance of filtering erroneous occurrence records in biodiversity analyses.InnovationWe introduce an R package, occTest, that synthesizes a growing open‐source ecosystem of biodiversity cleaning workflows to prepare occurrence data for different modelling applications. It offers a structured set of algorithms to identify potential problems with species occurrence records by employing a hierarchical organization of multiple tests. The workflow has a hierarchical structure organized in testPhases (i.e. cleaning vs. testing) that encompass different testBlocks grouping different testTypes (e.g. environmental outlier detection), which may use different testMethods (e.g. Rosner test, jacknife,etc.). Four different testBlocks characterize potential problems in geographic, environmental, human influence and temporal dimensions. Filtering and plotting functions are incorporated to facilitate the interpretation of tests. We provide examples with different data sources, with default and user‐defined parameters. Compared to other available tools and workflows, occTest offers a comprehensive suite of integrated tests, and allows multiple methods associated with each test to explore consensus among data cleaning methods. It uniquely incorporates both coordinate accuracy analysis and environmental analysis of occurrence records. Furthermore, it provides a hierarchical structure to incorporate future tests yet to be developed.Main conclusionsoccTest will help users understand the quality and quantity of data available before the start of data analysis, while also enabling users to filter data using either predefined rules or custom‐built rules. As a result, occTest can better assess each record's appropriateness for its intended application.

Luna-Aranguré, C., and E. Vázquez-Domínguez. 2024. Bears into the Niche-Space: Phylogeography and Phyloclimatic Model of the Family Ursidae. Diversity 16: 223. https://doi.org/10.3390/d16040223

Assessing niche evolution remains an open question and an actively developing area of study. The family Ursidae consists of eight extant species for which, despite being the most studied family of carnivores, little is known about the influence of climate on their evolutionary history and diversification. We evaluated their evolutionary patterns based on a combined phylogeography and niche modeling approach. We used complete mitogenomes, estimated divergence times, generated ecological niche models and applied a phyloclimatic model to determine the species evolutionary and diversification patterns associated with their respective environmental niches. We inferred the family evolutionary path along the environmental conditions of maximum temperature and minimum precipitation, from around 20 million years ago to the present. Our findings show that the phyloclimatic niches of the bear species occupy most of the environmental space available on the planet, except for the most extreme warm conditions, in accordance with the wide geographic distribution of Ursidae. Moreover, some species exhibit broader environmental niches than others, and in some cases, they explore precipitation axes more extensively than temperature axes or vice versa, suggesting that not all species are equally adaptable to these variables. We were able to elucidate potential patterns of niche conservatism and evolution, as well as niche overlapping, suggesting interspecific competitive exclusion between some of the bear species. We present valuable insights into the ecological and evolutionary processes driving the diversification and distribution of the Ursidae. Our approach also provides essential information for guiding effective conservation strategies, particularly in terms of distribution limits in the face of climate change.

Gama-Rodríguez, A. M., J. A. García, L. F. Lozano, and D. A. Prieto-Torres. 2024. Protecting breeding sites: a critical goal for the conservation of the golden eagle in Mexico under global change scenarios. Journal of Ornithology. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-024-02168-x

Impacts of global climate and land‐use changes on distribution patterns and breeding sites remain today poorly studied for several vulnerable emblematic bird species, including the Golden Eagle ( Aquila chrysaetos ). Herein, we analyzed the potential effect of global climate changes and agricultural activities on the distribution patterns of this top predator across Mexico. We assessed the long-term role of protected areas (PAs) for safeguarding the species’ overall distribution and its breeding sites. We evaluated current and future (2040s, 2060s, and 2080s) threats from global change using ecological niche modeling and geographic information system approaches to determine the percentage of the species’ distribution area that overlaps with highly human-modified areas and PAs under each climate scenario. We also used niche overlap tests to assess whether the species’ breeding sites show equivalence or similarity of climatic conditions over time. Our findings revealed shifts in the Golden Eagle’s distributional area, with an overall size reduction (by ~ 57% in the 2040s and ~ 78% in the 2080s) due to future environmental changes, mainly attributable to increasingly dry and warm conditions. Mexican PAs cover ~ 12% of the Golden Eagle’s range across country, but this decreased by > 33% on average under the species’ future distributions. Although the hypothesis of equivalent climatic conditions at breeding sites over time was rejected, those sites did have long-term climate similarity (niche overlap: 0.75–0.83; P  < 0.05). Considering the species’ nest site fidelity and that colonization of new areas within Mexico seems unlikely, protection of these breeding sites is a critical step for the long-term conservation of this emblematic species in Mexico. Brutplätze schützen: ein wichtiges Ziel für die Erhaltung des Steinadlers in Mexiko unter den Bedingungen des globalen Wandels Die Auswirkungen globaler Klima- und Landnutzungsänderungen auf die Verbreitungsmuster und Brutplätze mehrerer gefährdeter, symbolträchtiger Vogelarten, darunter der Steinadler (Aquila chrysaetos), sind bis heute kaum untersucht. In dieser Studie haben wir die potenziellen Auswirkungen globaler Klimaveränderungen und landwirtschaftlicher Aktivitäten auf die Verbreitungsmuster dieses Spitzenprädators in Mexiko untersucht. Wir bewerteten die langfristige Rolle von Schutzgebieten für die Sicherung der Gesamtverbreitung der Art und ihrer Brutplätze. Wir bewerteten aktuelle und zukünftige (2040, 2060 und 2080) Bedrohungen durch den globalen Wandel, indem wir ökologische Nischenmodelle und geografische Informationssysteme einsetzten, um den prozentualen Anteil des Verbreitungsgebiets der Art zu bestimmen, der sich mit stark vom Menschen veränderten Gebieten und Schutzgebieten unter jedem Klimaszenario überschneidet. Außerdem haben wir mit Hilfe von Nischenüberlappungstests untersucht, ob die Brutgebiete der Art im Laufe der Zeit gleichwertige oder ähnliche klimatische Bedingungen aufweisen. Unsere Ergebnisse zeigen, dass sich das Verbreitungsgebiet des Steinadlers aufgrund zukünftiger Umweltveränderungen insgesamt verkleinert (um ca. 57% in den 2040er Jahren und ca. 78% in den 2080er Jahren), was hauptsächlich auf zunehmend trockenere und wärmere Bedingungen zurückzuführen ist. Die mexikanischen Schutzgebiete decken landesweit etwa 12% des Verbreitungsgebiets des Steinadlers ab, doch wird dieser Anteil unter den zukünftigen Verbreitungsgebieten der Art im Durchschnitt um mehr als 33% abnehmen. Auch wenn wir die Hypothese über die Zeit gleichwertiger klimatischer Bedingungen an den Brutplätzen Zeit verwarfen, wiesen diese Standorte eine langfristige Klimaähnlichkeit auf (Nischenüberschneidung: 0,75-0,83; P < 0,05). In Anbetracht der Nistplatztreue der Art und der Tatsache, dass die Besiedlung neuer Gebiete in Mexiko unwahrscheinlich erscheint, ist der Schutz dieser Brutplätze ein entscheidender Schritt für die langfristige Erhaltung dieser emblematischen Art in Mexiko.

DuBose, T. P., V. Catalan, C. E. Moore, V. R. Farallo, A. L. Benson, J. L. Dade, W. A. Hopkins, and M. C. Mims. 2024. Thermal Traits of Anurans Database for the Southeastern United States (TRAD): A Database of Thermal Trait Values for 40 Anuran Species. Ichthyology &amp; Herpetology 112. https://doi.org/10.1643/h2022102

Thermal traits, or how an animal responds to changing temperatures, impacts species persistence and thus biodiversity. Trait databases, as repositories of consolidated, measured organismal attributes, allow researchers to link study species with specific trait values, enabling comparisons within and among species. Trait databases also help lay the groundwork to build mechanistic linkages between organisms and the environment. However, missing or hidden physiological trait data preclude building mechanistic estimates of climate change vulnerability for many species. Thus, physiologically focused trait databases present an opportunity to consolidate data and enable species-specific or multispecies, mechanistic evaluations of climate change vulnerability. Here, we present TRAD: thermal traits of anurans database for the southeastern United States, a database of thermal trait values related to physiological thermoregulation (critical thermal minima and maxima, preferred temperature), behavioral thermoregulation (activity period, retreat emergence temperature, basking temperature, minimum and maximum foraging temperatures), and body mass for 37 anuran species found within the southeastern United States. In total, TRAD contains 858 reported trait values for 37 of 40 species found in the region from 267 peer-reviewed papers, dissertations, or theses and is easily linked with trait data available in ATraiU, an ecological trait database for anurans in the United States. TRAD contains trait values for multiple life stages and a summarization of interspecific adult trait values. Availability of trait data varied widely among traits and species. Estimates of mass were the most common trait values reported, with values available for 32 species. Behavioral trait values comprised 23% of our database, with activity period available for 34 species. We found the most trait values for Cope's Gray Treefrog (Dryophytes chrysoscelis), with at least one trait value for eight traits in the database. Conversely, species in the genus Pseudacris generally had the fewest trait values available. Species with the largest geographic range sizes also had the greatest coverage of data across traits (rho 5 0.75, P , 0.001). TRAD can aid studies of anuran response to changing temperatures, physiological niche space and limitations, and potential drivers of anuran geographic range limits, influencing our understanding of other ecological and evolutionary patterns and processes and enabling multispecies comparisons of potential risk and resilience in the face of climate change.

Mamba, H. S., and T. O. Randhir. 2024. Exploring temperature and precipitation changes under future climate change scenarios for black and white rhinoceros populations in Southern Africa. Biodiversity 25: 52–64. https://doi.org/10.1080/14888386.2023.2291133

Climate change is a potential human-induced threat to rhino populations and their habitat. Information on the effects of climate change on rhinoceros species can help manage and develop conservation plans to adapt to these changes. In this study, two climate change scenarios were used to predict temperature and precipitation changes in national parks in southern Africa and the effect those changes would have on black (Diceros bicornis) and white (Ceratotherium simum) rhinoceros populations. The study used the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) 4.5 and 8.5, atmospheric CO2 concentrations of 650 and 1370 ppm, for the years 2055 and 2085 to explore the temperature and precipitation changes. All spatial information was processed using Geographic Information Systems and statistical analysis. Results show the changing climate will have significant negative impacts on the probability of occurrence of both species. Temperature changes will affect these probabilities more than precipitation changes. All study parks will have zero probability of occurrence for the species throughout their ranges should conditions reach those represented by the RCP 8.5 scenario late in the century. Conservation activities for the rhinoceros should take into consideration the potential for temperature and precipitation changes modelled in this study.

Scarpetta, S. G. 2024. A Palaeogene stem crotaphytid ( Aciprion formosum ) and the phylogenetic affinities of early fossil pleurodontan iguanians. Royal Society Open Science 11. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.221139

Pleurodonta is an ancient, diverse clade of iguanian lizard distributed primarily in the Western Hemisphere. Although the clade is a frequent subject of systematic research, phylogenetic resolution among the major pleurodontan clades is elusive. That uncertainty has complicated the interpretations of many fossil pleurodontans. I describe a fossil skull of a pleurodontan lizard from the Palaeogene of Wyoming that was previously allocated to the puzzling taxon Aciprion formosum , and provide an updated morphological matrix for iguanian lizards. Phylogenetic analyses using Bayesian inference demonstrate that the fossil skull is the oldest and first definitive stem member of Crotaphytidae (collared and leopard lizards), establishing the presence of that clade in North America during the Palaeogene. I also discuss new or revised hypotheses for the relationships of several early pleurodontans. In particular, I examine potential evidence for crown-Pleurodonta in the Cretaceous of Mongolia ( Polrussia ), stem Pleurodonta in the Cretaceous of North America ( Magnuviator ) and a stem anole in the Eocene of North America ( Afairiguana ). I suggest that the placement of the fossil crotaphytid is stable to the uncertain phylogeny of Pleurodonta, but recognize the dynamic nature of fossil diagnosis and the potential for updated systematic hypotheses for the other fossils analysed here.

Gherghel, I., and R. A. Martin. 2024. Biotic interactions vary across species’ ranges and are likely conserved through geological time. Journal of Biogeography. https://doi.org/10.1111/jbi.14794

Aim The evolutionary interactions between western spadefoot toads (genus Spea) represent a textbook example of character displacement, facilitated by dietary specialization of one Spea species on fairy shrimp (Anostraca) when all three co‐occur. The aim of this study is to understand the covariation between predator (Spea) and prey (Anostraca) range shifts in response to climate change oscillations, and whether biotic interactions can be used to project species distribution models on different time scales when studying species with dietary specialization. Taxon: Amphibia: Spea spp. and Crustacea: Anostraca.LocationNorth America.MethodsUsing multiple modelling techniques, we first estimated the potential distribution of central and western North American fairy shrimp species (Crustacea: Anostraca) and two western spadefoot toad species (Spea bombifrons and Spea multiplicata). We then created a shrimp species richness map by aggregating individual species estimates. Third, we studied the relationship between the probability of spadefoot toad presence and fairy shrimp species richness during the present and Last Glacial Maximum conditions. Finally, we estimated the strength and direction of the co‐occurrence between spadefoot toads and fairy shrimp sampled at the level of entire predicted range and at the regional level (allopatric and sympatric).ResultsFirst, the same abiotic environmental variables shape spadefoot toad and fairy shrimp species' distributions in central and western North America across time. Second, areas of sympatry of Spea bombifrons and Spea multiplicata correspond with dry conditions and higher shrimp richness. Finally, the spatial patterns of predator–prey co‐occurrence are highly variable across geography, forming a spatial mosaic over the species' ranges.Main ConclusionPredator–prey relationships form a spatial mosaic across geography and species ranges. Including biotic interactions into species distribution estimates for organisms with dietary specialization is highly recommended. Biotic interactions can be projected across different time frames for organisms with dietary specialization as they are likely conserved.

Mochales-Riaño, G., B. Burriel-Carranza, M. I. Barros, G. Velo-Antón, A. Talavera, L. Spilani, H. Tejero-Cicuéndez, et al. 2024. Hidden in the sand: Phylogenomics unravel an unexpected evolutionary history for the desert-adapted vipers of the genus Cerastes. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 191: 107979. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ympev.2023.107979

The desert vipers of the genus Cerastes are a small clade of medically important venomous snakes within the family Viperidae. According to published morphological and molecular studies, the group is comprised by four species: two morphologically similar and phylogenetically sister taxa, the African horned viper (Cerastes cerastes) and the Arabian horned viper (Cerastes gasperettii); a more distantly related species, the Saharan sand viper (Cerastes vipera), and the enigmatic Böhme’s sand viper (Cerastes boehmei), only known from a single specimen in captivity allegedly captured in Central Tunisia. In this study, we sequenced one mitochondrial marker (COI) as well as genome-wide data (ddRAD sequencing) from 28 and 41 samples, respectively, covering the entire distribution range of the genus to explore the population genomics, phylogenomic relationships and introgression patterns within the genus Cerastes. Additionally, and to provide insights into the mode of diversification of the group, we carried out niche overlap analyses considering climatic and habitat variables. Both nuclear phylogenomic reconstructions and population structure analyses have unveiled an unexpected evolutionary history for the genus Cerastes, which sharply contradicts the morphological similarities and previously published mitochondrial approaches. Cerastes cerastes and C. vipera are recovered as sister taxa whilst C. gasperettii is a sister taxon to the clade formed by these two species. We found a relatively high niche overlap (OI > 0.7) in both climatic and habitat variables between C. cerastes and C. vipera, contradicting a potential scenario of sympatric speciation. These results are in line with the introgression found between the northwestern African populations of C. cerastes and C. vipera. Finally, our genomic data confirms the existence of a lineage of C. cerastes in Arabia. All these results highlight the importance of genome-wide data over few genetic markers to study the evolutionary history of species.