Science Enabled by Specimen Data

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.

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.

Ramírez-Barahona, S. 2024. Incorporating fossils into the joint inference of phylogeny and biogeography of the tree fern order Cyatheales R. Warnock, and M. Zelditch [eds.],. Evolution.

Present-day geographic and phylogenetic patterns often reflect the geological and climatic history of the planet. Neontological distribution data are often sufficient to unravel a lineage’s biogeographic history, yet ancestral range inferences can be at odds with fossil evidence. Here, I use the fossilized birth–death process and the dispersal–extinction cladogenesis model to jointly infer the dated phylogeny and range evolution of the tree fern order Cyatheales. I use data for 101 fossil and 442 extant tree ferns to reconstruct the biogeographic history of the group over the last 220 million years. Fossil-aware reconstructions evince a prolonged occupancy of Laurasia over the Triassic–Cretaceous by Cyathealean tree ferns, which is evident in the fossil record but hidden from analyses relying on neontological data alone. Nonetheless, fossil-aware reconstructions are affected by uncertainty in fossils’ phylogenetic placement, taphonomic biases, and specimen sampling and are sensitive to interpretation of paleodistributions and how these are scored. The present results highlight the need and challenges of incorporating fossils into joint inferences of phylogeny and biogeography to improve the reliability of ancestral geographic range estimation.

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.

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.

Short, A. W., J. S. V. Sebastian, J. Huang, G. Wang, M. Dassanayake, P. M. Finnegan, J. D. Parker, et al. 2024. Comparative transcriptomics of the chilling stress response in two Asian mangrove species Bruguiera gymnorhiza and Rhizophora apiculata. Tree Physiology.

Abstract Low temperatures largely determine the geographic limits of plant species by reducing survival and growth. Interspecific differences in the geographic distribution of mangrove species have been associated with cold tolerance, with exclusively tropical species being highly cold-sensitive and subtropical species being relatively cold-tolerant. To identify species-specific adaptations to low temperatures, we compared the chilling stress response of two widespread Indo-West Pacific mangrove species from Rhizophoraceae with differing latitudinal range limits—Bruguiera gymnorhiza (subtropical range limit) and Rhizophora apiculata (tropical range limit). For both species, we measured the maximum photochemical efficiency of photosystem II (Fv/Fm) as a proxy for the physiological condition of the plants and examined gene expression profiles during chilling at 15 °C and 5 °C. At 15 °C, B. gymnorhiza maintained a significantly higher Fv/Fm than R. apiculata. However, at 5 °C, both species displayed equivalent Fv/Fm values. Thus, species-specific differences in chilling tolerance were only found at 15 °C, and both species were sensitive to chilling at 5 °C. At 15 °C, B. gymnorhiza down-regulated genes related to the light reactions of photosynthesis and up-regulated a gene involved in cyclic electron flow regulation, while R. apiculata down-regulated more RuBisCo related genes. At 5 °C, both species repressed genes related to CO2 assimilation. The down-regulation of genes related to light absorption and up-regulation of genes related to cyclic electron flow regulation are photoprotective mechanisms that likely contributed to the greater PSII photochecmical efficiency of B. gymnorhiza at 15 °C. The results of this study provide evidence that the distributional range limits and potentially the expansion rates of plant species are associated with differences in the regulation of photosynthesis and photoprotective mechanisms under low temperatures.

Minghetti, E., P. M. Dellapé, M. Maestro, and S. I. Montemayor. 2024. Evaluating the climatic suitability of Engytatus passionarius Minghetti et al. (Heteroptera, Miridae) as a biological control agent of the invasive stinking passion flower Passiflora foetida L. in Australia through ecological niche models. Biological Control 191: 105461.

Passiflora foetida is a climbing vine, native to the Neotropical Region that is causing major economic and ecological damage in Australia, where it is rapidly spreading. Traditional control options, such as cutting, manual uprooting, and herbicide applications are only effective for local management. Currently, the plant bug Engytatus passionarius is the most promising biological control agent. Specificity tests performed in its native range in Argentina suggest it is highly specific to the plant, and it has not been observed in the field associated with other plants. As climate determines the establishment of insects, knowing if the environmental conditions suit their requirements is key to introducing a species in a region. Also, an overlap between the climatic niches of species is an indicator of similar requirements. To explore the possibilities of a successful establishment of E. passionarius in Australia, ecological niche models (ENM) were built for the plant bug and for the vine and their overlap was measured. The ENM projected to Australia recognized suitable environmental conditions for the establishment of E. passionarius in several regions where P. foetida is present, both for current and future scenarios. Moreover, the niche of the plant bug is almost completely overlapped with that of the vine. All the aforementioned evidence seems to indicate that E. passionarius has a good chance to become an effective biological control agent of P. foetida.

Ract, C., N. D. Burgess, L. Dinesen, P. Sumbi, I. Malugu, J. Latham, L. Anderson, et al. 2024. Nature Forest Reserves in Tanzania and their importance for conservation S. S. Romanach [ed.],. PLOS ONE 19: e0281408.

Since 1997 Tanzania has undertaken a process to identify and declare a network of Nature Forest Reserves (NFRs) with high biodiversity values, from within its existing portfolio of national Forest Reserves, with 16 new NFRs declared since 2015. The current network of 22 gazetted NFRs covered 948,871 hectares in 2023. NFRs now cover a range of Tanzanian habitat types, including all main forest types—wet, seasonal, and dry—as well as wetlands and grasslands. NFRs contain at least 178 of Tanzania’s 242 endemic vertebrate species, of which at least 50% are threatened with extinction, and 553 Tanzanian endemic plant taxa (species, subspecies, and varieties), of which at least 50% are threatened. NFRs also support 41 single-site endemic vertebrate species and 76 single-site endemic plant taxa. Time series analysis of management effectiveness tracking tool (METT) data shows that NFR management effectiveness is increasing, especially where donor funds have been available. Improved management and investment have resulted in measurable reductions of some critical threats in NFRs. Still, ongoing challenges remain to fully contain issues of illegal logging, charcoal production, firewood, pole-cutting, illegal hunting and snaring of birds and mammals, fire, wildlife trade, and the unpredictable impacts of climate change. Increased tourism, diversified revenue generation and investment schemes, involving communities in management, and stepping up control measures for remaining threats are all required to create a network of economically self-sustaining NFRs able to conserve critical biodiversity values.

Munna, A. H., N. A. Amuri, P. Hieronimo, and D. A. Woiso. 2023. Modelling ecological niches of Sclerocarya birrea subspecies in Tanzania under the current and future climates. Silva Fennica 57.

The information on ecological niches of the Marula tree, Sclerocarya birrea (A. Rich.) Horchst. subspecies are needed for sustainable management of this tree, considering its nutritional, economic, and ecological benefits. However, despite Tanzania being regarded as a global genetic center of diversity of S. birrea, information on the subspecies ecological niches is lacking. We aimed to model ecological niches of S. birrea subspecies in Tanzania under the current and future climates. Ecological niches under the current climate were modelled by using ecological niche models in MaxEnt using climatic, edaphic, and topographical variables, and subspecies occurrence data. The Hadley Climate Center and National Center for Atmospheric Research's Earth System Models were used to predict ecological niches under the medium and high greenhouse gases emission scenarios for the years 2050 and 2080. Area under the curves (AUCs) were used to assess the accuracy of the models. The results show that the models were robust, with AUCs of 0.85–0.95. Annual and seasonal precipitation, elevation, and soil cation exchange capacity are the key environmental factors that define the ecological niches of the S. birrea subspecies. Ecological niches of subsp. caffra, multifoliata, and birrea are currently found in 30, 22, and 21 regions, and occupy 184 814 km2, 139 918 km2, and 28 446 km2 of Tanzania's land area respectively, which will contract by 0.4–44% due to climate change. Currently, 31–51% of ecological niches are under Tanzania’s protected areas network. The findings are important in guiding the development of conservation and domestication strategies for the S. birrea subspecies in Tanzania.

Finegan, B., D. Delgado, A. L. Hernández Gordillo, N. Zamora Villalobos, R. Núñez Florez, F. Díaz Santos, and S. Vílchez Mendoza. 2024. Multi-dimensional temperature sensitivity of protected tropical mountain rain forests. Frontiers in Forests and Global Change 6.

Introduction Tropical mountain rain forests (TMRF, natural forests at > 300 m asl) are globally important for biodiversity and ecosystem services and are believed to be highly vulnerable to climate change. But there are no specific approaches for rigorous assessment of their vulnerability at the landscape and local scales necessary for management for adaptation. We address the challenge of evaluating the ecological sensitivity to temperature of TMRF, applying a multidimensional approach in protected areas over a 440–2,950 m asl altitudinal gradient in Costa Rica, synthesizing results of a long-term research programme (2012-present). We evaluate the sensitivity to the current spatial temperature gradient of eleven ecosystem properties in three categories: forest composition and diversity, thermal characteristics of forest stands and forest structure and dynamics.MethodsData are from 29 to 32 plots of 50 m x 50 m (0.25 ha) distributed over the gradient, in which all trees, palms and tree ferns ≥ 10 dbh are identified to species and measured for recruitment, growth and mortality. An experimental study of leaf litter decomposition rates was carried out in twelve plots. Current and future (SSP 585, 2070) values of mean annual temperatures MAT were obtained from online climate surfaces. Thermal characteristics of forest stands were determined using MATs of species occurrences in GBIF and include a new index, the Community Thermal Capital Index (CTCI), calculated as CTI-MAT.ResultsWe classified degrees of sensitivity to temperature as very weak, weak, moderate or substantial. All eleven ecosystem properties are substantially sensitive, so changes in their values are expected under rising temperatures. Species density, the community temperature index CTI, tree recruitment and mortality rates and leaf litter decomposition rates are positively related to temperature, while the community weighted mean thermal niche breadth, the CTCI, net basal area increments, stand basal area and carbon in aboveground biomass are negatively related. Results point to zones of vulnerability in the protected areas.DiscussionIn montane forests, positive values of the CTCI–climate credit– robust basal area growth and very low mortality and leaf litter decomposition rates suggest healthy ecosystems and no risk of mountaintop extinction. Lowland forests may be vulnerable to degradation and biotic attrition, showing current basal area loss, high mortality and climate debts. National and local actors are participating in a process of adoption of the sensitivity analysis and recommendations regarding zones of vulnerability.

Zhang, H., W. Guo, and W. Wang. 2023. The dimensionality reductions of environmental variables have a significant effect on the performance of species distribution models. Ecology and Evolution 13.

How to effectively obtain species‐related low‐dimensional data from massive environmental variables has become an urgent problem for species distribution models (SDMs). In this study, we will explore whether dimensionality reduction on environmental variables can improve the predictive performance of SDMs. We first used two linear (i.e., principal component analysis (PCA) and independent components analysis) and two nonlinear (i.e., kernel principal component analysis (KPCA) and uniform manifold approximation and projection) dimensionality reduction techniques (DRTs) to reduce the dimensionality of high‐dimensional environmental data. Then, we established five SDMs based on the environmental variables of dimensionality reduction for 23 real plant species and nine virtual species, and compared the predictive performance of those with the SDMs based on the selected environmental variables through Pearson's correlation coefficient (PCC). In addition, we studied the effects of DRTs, model complexity, and sample size on the predictive performance of SDMs. The predictive performance of SDMs under DRTs other than KPCA is better than using PCC. And the predictive performance of SDMs using linear DRTs is better than using nonlinear DRTs. In addition, using DRTs to deal with environmental variables has no less impact on the predictive performance of SDMs than model complexity and sample size. When the model complexity is at the complex level, PCA can improve the predictive performance of SDMs the most by 2.55% compared with PCC. At the middle level of sample size, the PCA improved the predictive performance of SDMs by 2.68% compared with the PCC. Our study demonstrates that DRTs have a significant effect on the predictive performance of SDMs. Specifically, linear DRTs, especially PCA, are more effective at improving model predictive performance under relatively complex model complexity or large sample sizes.

ter Huurne, M. B., L. J. Potgieter, C. Botella, and D. M. Richardson. 2023. Melaleuca (Myrtaceae): Biogeography of an important genus of trees and shrubs in a changing world. South African Journal of Botany 162: 230–244.

The number of naturalised and invasive woody plant species has increased rapidly in recent decades. Despite the increasing interest in tree and shrub invasions, little is known about the invasion ecology of most species. This paper explores the global movement of species in the genus Melaleuca (Myrtaceae; here including the genus Callistemon). We assess the global introduction history, distribution and biogeographic status of the genus. Various global species occurrence databases, citizen science (iNaturalist), and the literature were used.Seventy-two species [out of 386 Melaleuca species; 19%] have been introduced to at least 125 regions outside their native range. The main regions of global Melaleuca introductions are Southeast Asia, the southern parts of North America, south-eastern South America, southern Africa and Europe. The earliest record of a Melaleuca species outside of the native range of the genus is 1789. First records of Melaleuca species outside their native range were most commonly recorded in the 1960s, with records from all over the world. The main reasons for Melaleuca introductions were for use in the tea tree (pharmaceutical value) and ornamental horticulture industries. Melaleuca introductions, naturalizations and invasions are recent compared to many other woody plant taxa. Experiences in Florida and South Africa highlight the potential of Melaleuca species to spread rapidly and have significant ecological impacts. It is likely that the accumulating invasion debt will result in further naturalization and invasion of Melaleuca species in the future.