Science Enabled by Specimen Data

Pang, S. E. H., J. W. F. Slik, D. Zurell, and E. L. Webb. 2023. The clustering of spatially associated species unravels patterns in tropical tree species distributions. Ecosphere 14.

Complex distribution data can be summarized by grouping species with similar or overlapping distributions to unravel spatial patterns and separate trends (e.g., of habitat loss) among spatially unique groups. However, such classifications are often heuristic, lacking the transparency, objectivity, and data‐driven rigor of quantitative methods, which limits their interpretability and utility. Here, we develop and illustrate the clustering of spatially associated species, a methodological framework aimed at statistically classifying species using explicit measures of interspecific spatial association. We investigate several association indices and clustering algorithms and show how these methodological choices drive substantial variations in clustering outcomes and performance. To facilitate robust decision‐making, we provide guidance on choosing methods appropriate to one's study objective(s). As a case study, we apply our framework to modeled tree distributions in Borneo and subsequently evaluate the impact of land‐cover change on separate species groupings. Based on the modeled distribution of 390 tree species prior to anthropogenic land‐cover changes, we identified 11 distinct clusters that unraveled ecologically meaningful patterns in Bornean tree distributions. These clusters then enabled us to quantify trends of habitat loss tied to each of those specific clusters, allowing us to discern particularly vulnerable species clusters and their distributions. This study demonstrates the advantages of adopting quantitatively derived clusters of spatially associated species and elucidates the potential of resultant clusters as a spatially explicit framework for investigating distribution‐related questions in ecology, biogeography, and conservation. By adopting our methodological framework and publicly available codes, practitioners can leverage the ever‐growing abundance of distribution data to better understand complex spatial patterns among species distributions and the disparate effects of global changes on biodiversity.

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.

Bento, M., H. Niza, A. Cartaxana, S. Bandeira, J. Paula, and A. M. Correia. 2023. Mind the Gaps: Taxonomic, Geographic and Temporal Data of Marine Invertebrate Databases from Mozambique and São Tomé and Príncipe. Diversity 15: 70.

One of the best ways to share and disseminate biodiversity information is through the digitization of data and making it available via online databases. The rapid growth of publicly available biodiversity data is not without problems which may decrease the utility of online databases. In this study we analyze taxonomic, geographic and temporal data gaps, and bias related to existing data on selected marine invertebrate occurrences along the coastline of two African countries, Mozambique and São Tomé and Príncipe. The final marine invertebrate dataset comprises of 19.910 occurrences, but 32% of the original dataset occurrences were excluded due to data gaps. Most marine invertebrates in Mozambique were collected in seagrasses, whereas in São Tomé and Príncipe they were mostly collected offshore. The dataset has a temporal coverage from 1816 to 2019, with most occurrences collected in the last two decades. This study provides baseline information relevant to a better understanding of marine invertebrate biodiversity data gaps and bias in these habitats along the coasts of these countries. The information can be further applied to complete marine invertebrate data gaps contributing to design informed sampling strategies and advancing refined datasets that can be used in management and conservation plans in both countries.

Campbell, L. C. E., E. T. Kiers, and G. Chomicki. 2022. The evolution of plant cultivation by ants. Trends in Plant Science.

Outside humans, true agriculture was previously thought to be restricted to social insects farming fungus. However, obligate farming of plants by ants was recently discovered in Fiji, prompting a re-examination of plant cultivation by ants. Here, we generate a database of plant cultivation by ants, identify three main types, and show that these interactions evolved primarily for shelter rather than food. We find that plant cultivation evolved at least 65 times independently for crops (~200 plant species), and 15 times in farmer lineages (~37 ant taxa) in the Neotropics and Asia/Australasia. Because of their high evolutionary replication, and variation in partner dependence, these systems are powerful models to unveil the steps in the evolution and ecology of insect agriculture.

Watts, J. L., and J. E. Watkins. 2022. New Zealand Fern Distributions from the Last Glacial Maximum to 2070: A Dynamic Tale of Migration and Community Turnover. American Fern Journal 112.

The coming decades are predicated to bring widespread shifts in local, regional, and global climatic patterns. Currently there is limited understanding of how ferns will respond to these changes and few studies have attempted to model shifts in fern distribution in response to climate change. In this paper, we present a series of these models using the country of New Zealand as our study system. Ferns are notably abundant in New Zealand and play important ecological roles in early succession, canopy biology, and understory dynamics. Here we describe how fern distributions have changed since the Last Glacial Maximum to the present and predict how they will change with anthropogenic climate change – assuming no measures are taken to reduce carbon emissions. To do this, we used MaxEnt species distribution modelling with publicly available data from and to predict the past, present, and future distributions of 107 New Zealand fern species. The present study demonstrates that ferns in New Zealand have and will continue to expand their ranges and migrate southward and upslope. Despite the predicted general increased range size as a result of climate change, our models predict that the majority (52%) of many species' current suitable habitats may be climatically unsuitable in 50 years, including the ecologically important group: tree ferns. Additionally, fern communities are predicted to undergo drastic shifts in composition, which may be detrimental to overall ecosystem functioning in New Zealand.

Testo, W. L., A. L. de Gasper, S. Molino, J. M. G. y Galán, A. Salino, V. A. de O. Dittrich, and E. B. Sessa. 2022. Deep vicariance and frequent transoceanic dispersal shape the evolutionary history of a globally distributed fern family. American Journal of Botany.

Premise Historical biogeography of ferns is typically expected to be dominated by long-distance dispersal, due to their minuscule spores. However, few studies have inferred the historical biogeography of a large and widely distributed group of ferns to test this hypothesis. Our aims are to determine the extent to which long-distance dispersal vs. vicariance have shaped the history of the fern family Blechnaceae, to explore ecological correlates of dispersal and diversification, and to determine whether these patterns differ between the northern and southern hemispheres. Methods We used sequence data for three chloroplast loci to infer a time-calibrated phylogeny for 154 out of 265 species of Blechnaceae, including representatives of all genera in the family. This tree was used to conduct ancestral range reconstruction and stochastic character mapping, estimate diversification rates, and identify ecological correlates of diversification. Key results Blechnaceae originated in Eurasia and began diversifying in the late Cretaceous. A lineage comprising most extant diversity diversified principally in the austral Pacific region around the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. Land connections that existed near the poles during periods of warm climates likely facilitated migration of several lineages, with subsequent climate-mediated vicariance shaping current distributions. Long-distance dispersal is frequent and asymmetrical, with New Zealand/Pacific Islands, Australia, and tropical America being major source areas. Conclusions Ancient vicariance and extensive long-distance dispersal have shaped the history of Blechnaceae in both the northern and southern hemispheres. The exceptional diversity in austral regions appears to reflect rapid speciation in these areas; mechanisms underlying this evolutionary success remain uncertain.

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.

Niza, H., M. Bento, L. Lopes, A. Cartaxana, and A. Correia. 2021. A picture is worth a thousand words: using digital tools to visualise marine invertebrate diversity data along the coasts of Mozambique and São Tomé & Príncipe. Biodiversity Data Journal 9.

The amount of biological data available in online repositories is increasing at an exponential rate. However, data on marine invertebrate biodiversity resources from Mozambique and São Tomé and Príncipe are still sparse and scattered. Online repositories are useful instruments for biodiversity resea…

Qu, J., Y. Xu, Y. Cui, S. Wu, L. Wang, X. Liu, Z. Xing, et al. 2021. MODB: a comprehensive mitochondrial genome database for Mollusca. Database 2021.

Mollusca is the largest marine phylum, comprising about 23% of all named marine organisms, Mollusca systematics are still in flux, and an increase in human activities has affected Molluscan reproduction and development, strongly impacting diversity and classification. Therefore, it is necessary to e…

de Oliveira, M. H. V., B. M. Torke, and T. E. Almeida. 2021. An inventory of the ferns and lycophytes of the Lower Tapajós River Basin in the Brazilian Amazon reveals collecting biases, sampling gaps, and previously undocumented diversity. Brittonia 73: 459–480.

Ferns and lycophytes are an excellent group for conservation and species distribution studies because they are closely related to environmental changes. In this study, we analyzed collection gaps, sampling biases, richness distribution, and the species conservation effectiveness of protected areas i…