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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.

Marks, R. A., P. Delgado, G. M. Makonya, K. Cooper, R. VanBuren, and J. M. Farrant. 2024. Higher order polyploids exhibit enhanced desiccation tolerance in the grass Microchloa caffra. Journal of Experimental Botany.

Desiccation tolerance evolved recurrently across diverse plant lineages to enable survival in water limited conditions. Many resurrection plants are polyploid and several groups have hypothesized that polyploidy contributed to the evolution of desiccation tolerance. However, due to the vast phylogenetic distance between resurrection plant lineages, the rarity of desiccation tolerance, and the prevalence of polyploidy in plants, this hypothesis has been difficult to test. Here, we surveyed natural variation in morphological, reproductive, and desiccation tolerance traits across several cytotypes of a single species to test for links between polyploidy and increased resilience. We sampled multiple natural populations of the resurrection grass Microchloa caffra across an environmental gradient ranging from mesic to xeric in South Africa. We describe two distinct ecotypes of M. caffra that occupy different extremes of the environmental gradient and exhibit consistent differences in ploidy, morphological, reproductive, and desiccation tolerance traits in both field and common growth conditions. Interestingly, plants with more polyploid genomes exhibited consistently higher recovery from desiccation, were less reproductive, and larger than plants with smaller genomes and lower ploidy. These data suggest that selective pressures in increasingly xeric sites may play a role in maintaining and increasing desiccation tolerance that are mediated by changes in ploidy.

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.

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.

Ngarega, B. K., P. Chaibva, V. F. Masocha, J. K. Saina, P. K. Khine, and H. Schneider. 2023. Application of MaxEnt modeling to evaluate the climate change effects on the geographic distribution of Lippia javanica (Burm.f.) Spreng in Africa. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 196.

Lippia javanica is a typical indigenous plant species mostly found in the higher elevation or mountainous regions in southern, central, and eastern Africa. The ongoing utilization of the species for ethnobotanical applications and traditional uses, coupled with the changing climate, increases the risk of a potential reduction in its geographic distribution range in the region. Herein, we utilized the MaxEnt species distribution modelling to build the L. javanica distribution models in tropical and subtropical African regions for current and future climates. The MaxEnt models were calibrated and fitted using 286 occurrence records and six environmental variables. Temperatures, including temperature seasonality [Bio 4] and the maximum temperature of the warmest month [Bio 5], were observed to be the most significant determinants of L. javanica’s distribution. The current projected range for L. javanica was estimated to be 2,118,457 km 2 . Future model predictions indicated that L. javanica may increase its geographic distribution in western areas of the continent and regions around the equator; however, much of the geographic range in southern Africa may shift southwards, causing the species to lose portions of the northern limits of the habitat range. These current findings can help increase the conservation of L. javanica and other species and combat localized species loss induced by climate change and human pressure. We also emphasize the importance of more investigations and enhanced surveillance of traditionally used plant species in regions that are acutely susceptible to climate change.

Rocha, J., P. J. Nunes, A. Pinto, L. Fenina, A. L. Afonso, A. R. Seixas, R. Cruz, et al. 2024. Ecological adaptation of Australian Myrtaceae through the leaf waxes analysis: Corymbia citriodora, Eucalyptus gunnii, and Eucalyptus globulus. Flora 310: 152435.

Seeking to get insight into the close relationship between plant waxes and the climatic conditions of plants’ original biomes, the leaves of three Myrtaceae from the eastern Australian-Tasmanian region (Corymbia citriodora (Hook.) K.D.Hill & L.A.S.Johnson (lemon-scented gum), Eucalyptus gunnii Hook. (cider gum), and Eucalyptus globulus Labill. (blue gum)) were selected. The present study relied on the analysis of juvenile leaf samples of the three species collected at the Botanical Garden of the University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro (Portugal) during the driest and warmest period of the year (July), to ensure the same environmental conditions as the Australian species from December to February, for cider gum and blue gum, and from June to September, for lemon-scented gum. Both surfaces of the leaves of the three Myrtaceae species exhibit superhydrophobic behavior. They are covered with wax tubules, but these are thicker and the surface is smoother in the case of cider gum. From the chemical standpoint, the leaf waxes of the three species revealed a prevalence of β-diketones and sterols over alcohols, alkanes, and esters. The relative ketone/sterol concentration ratio demonstrated an environmental dynamic variation with climate, i.e., with the ombrothermic regimes. The highest concentration of β-diketone and the lowest concentration of sterols was observed for species from dryer conditions (lemon-scented gum), whereas the reverse trend was found for species from wetter conditions (cider gum and blue gum).The present work strongly suggests that the chemical composition of leaf waxes, rather than wettability, seems to be directly correlated with environmental variability at the species’ natural site. The methodology proposed here opens exciting new prospects for the investigation of the environmental dynamics of terrestrial plants.

Qin, F., T. Xue, X. Zhang, X. Yang, J. Yu, S. R. Gadagkar, and S. Yu. 2023. Past climate cooling and orogenesis of the Hengduan Mountains have influenced the evolution of Impatiens sect. Impatiens (Balsaminaceae) in the Northern Hemisphere. BMC Plant Biology 23.

Background Impatiens sect. Impatiens is distributed across the Northern Hemisphere and has diversified considerably, particularly within the Hengduan Mountains (HDM) in southwest China. Yet, the infra-sectional phylogenetic relationships are not well resolved, largely due to limited taxon sampling and an insufficient number of molecular markers. The evolutionary history of its diversification is also poorly understood. In this study, plastome data and the most complete sampling to date were used to reconstruct a robust phylogenetic framework for this section. The phylogeny was then used to investigate its biogeographical history and diversification patterns, specifically with the aim of understanding the role played by the HDM and past climatic changes in its diversification. Results A stable phylogeny was reconstructed that strongly supported both the monophyly of the section and its division into seven major clades (Clades I-VII). Molecular dating and ancestral area reconstruction suggest that sect. Impatiens originated in the HDM and Southeast China around 11.76 Ma, after which different lineages dispersed to Northwest China, temperate Eurasia, and North America, mainly during the Pliocene and Pleistocene. An intercontinental dispersal event from East Asia to western North America may have occurred via the Bering Land Bridge or Aleutian Islands. The diversification rate was high during its early history, especially with the HDM, but gradually decreased over time both within and outside the HDM. Multiple linear regression analysis showed that the distribution pattern of species richness was strongly associated with elevation range, elevation, and mean annual temperature. Finally, ancestral niche analysis indicated that sect. Impatiens originated in a relatively cool, middle-elevation area. Conclusions We inferred the evolutionary history of sect. Impatiens based on a solid phylogenetic framework. The HDM was the primary source or pump of its diversity in the Northern Hemisphere. Orogeny and climate change may have also shaped its diversification rates, as a steady decrease in the diversification rate coincided with the uplift of the HDM and climate cooling. These findings provide insights into the distribution pattern of sect. Impatiens and other plants in the Northern Hemisphere.

Rodríguez-Merino, A. 2023. Identifying and Managing Areas under Threat in the Iberian Peninsula: An Invasion Risk Atlas for Non-Native Aquatic Plant Species as a Potential Tool. Plants 12: 3069.

Predicting the likelihood that non-native species will be introduced into new areas remains one of conservation’s greatest challenges and, consequently, it is necessary to adopt adequate management measures to mitigate the effects of future biological invasions. At present, not much information is available on the areas in which non-native aquatic plant species could establish themselves in the Iberian Peninsula. Species distribution models were used to predict the potential invasion risk of (1) non-native aquatic plant species already established in the peninsula (32 species) and (2) those with the potential to invade the peninsula (40 species). The results revealed that the Iberian Peninsula contains a number of areas capable of hosting non-native aquatic plant species. Areas under anthropogenic pressure are at the greatest risk of invasion, and the variable most related to invasion risk is temperature. The results of this work were used to create the Invasion Risk Atlas for Alien Aquatic Plants in the Iberian Peninsula, a novel online resource that provides information about the potential distribution of non-native aquatic plant species. The atlas and this article are intended to serve as reference tools for the development of public policies, management regimes, and control strategies aimed at the prevention, mitigation, and eradication of non-native aquatic plant species.