Science Enabled by Specimen Data

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.

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.

Metreveli, V., H. Kreft, I. Akobia, Z. Janiashvili, Z. Nonashvili, L. Dzadzamia, Z. Javakhishvili, and A. Gavashelishvili. 2023. Potential Distribution and Suitable Habitat for Chestnut (Castanea sativa). Forests 14: 2076.

Chestnut, Castanea sativa Miller (Fagales: Fagaceae), is an ecologically and economically important tree species of the forest ecosystem in Southern Europe, North-Western Europe, Western Asia, North Africa, and the Caucasus. The distributional range of chestnut in Europe has been highly modified by humans since ancient times. Biotic and abiotic factors have dramatically changed its distribution. Historic anthropogenic range expansion makes it difficult to identify habitat requirements for natural stands of chestnut. In the Caucasus, natural stands of chestnut survived in glacial forest refugia and landscapes that have been difficult for humans to colonize. To identify the species reliable habitat requirements, we estimated the relationship between climatic variables and 620 occurrence locations of natural chestnut stands from the Caucasus and validated the model using GBIF data from outside the Caucasus. We found that our best model is reasonably accurate and the data from the Caucasus characterize chestnut stands throughout the species range well.

Goncalves, E., F. Casimiro-Soriguer Solanas, J. García-Caballero, and N. Hidalgo-Triana. 2023. Terrestrial Alien Flora of the Iberian Alboran Coast: Assessment, Attributes, and Future Implications. Diversity 15: 1120.

Although Mediterranean coastal regions in southern Spain have high floristic diversity and numerous Habitats of Community Interest (HCIs) identified by the European Union Directive Council, they are also vulnerable to invasive plants. In our study, we aimed to create a checklist of terrestrial alien taxa in the Iberian area of the Alboran coast, assess each species’ current invasion, analyse the influence of environmental attributes on invasion, estimate the richness of alien species per HCI group, and evaluate each species’ potential invasiveness based on its reproductive and dispersal attributes. The checklist that we developed includes 123 alien taxa, most belonging to the Asteraceae, Asparagaceae, and Poaceae families. Notably, 20% of the species are super invaders that occupy more than 20% of HCIs. We also identified Aloe vera, Cylindropuntia spp., Agave salmiana, Opuntia spp., and Paspalum spp. as incipient invaders with the potential for future expansion. Although most alien flora in the HCIs are not regulated by Spanish legislation (RDL 630/2013), monitoring and eradication plans are crucial. Advocating the cessation of using those plants in gardens and reducing anthropogenic pressure are also essential, as human activities worsen invasion dynamics and facilitate the introduction and establishment of invasive species.

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.

Gachambi Mwangi, J., J. Haggar, S. Mohammed, T. Santika, and K. Mustapha Umar. 2023. The ecology, distribution, and anthropogenic threats of multipurpose hemi-parasitic plant Osyris lanceolata. Journal for Nature Conservation 76: 126478.

Osyris lanceolata Hochst. & Steud. ex A. DC. is a multipurpose plant with high socioeconomic and cultural values. It is endangered in the biogeographical region of eastern Africa, but of less concern in other regions where it occurs. The few natural populations remaining in the endangered sites continue to encounter many threats, and this has raised concerns about its long-term sustainability. Yet, existing knowledge about the ecology and distribution of the plant is scarce to inform strategies for the conservation and sustainable management of the species. In this study, we conducted a scoping review of the available literature on current knowledge about the plant. We recapitulated existing knowledge about the abiotic and biotic factors influencing the contemporary distribution of the plant, the anthropogenic threats, and existing conservation efforts. Based on the limited studies we reviewed, we identified that the plant prefers specific habitats (hilly areas and rocky outcrops), frequently parasitizes Fabaceae but can parasitize plants from a wide range of countries, have inadequate ex-situ propagation protocols which present issues for the survival of the species. Overharvesting from the wild driven by demand from regional and global markets poses further threats to the existing natural populations, especially in eastern Africa. A combination of ecological, social, and trade-related conservation measures can be envisioned to help improve the plant’s persistence. These include, but are not limited to, a better understanding of the species ecology to inform conservation planning, monitoring of trade flow and improve transnational environmental laws and cooperation among countries to prevent species smuggling.

Geier, C., J. M. Bouchal, S. Ulrich, D. Uhl, T. Wappler, S. Wedmann, R. Zetter, et al. 2023. Potential pollinators and paleoecological aspects of Eocene Ludwigia (Onagraceae) from Eckfeld, Germany. Palaeoworld.

Paleogene flower-insect interactions and paleo-pollination processes are, in general, poorly understood and fossil evidence for such floral and faunal interactions are rarely reported. To shed light on angiosperm flower-insect interactions, we investigated several hundred fossil flowers and insects from the middle Eocene Fossil Lagerstätte of Eckfeld, Germany. During our work, we discovered a unique fossil Ludwigia flower (bud) with in situ pollen. The ecological preferences (climate, biome, habitat, etc.) of extant Ludwigia and the paleoecological configurations of the fossil plant assemblage support the taxonomic affiliation of the flower bud and an Eocene presence of Ludwigia in the vicinity of the former Lake Eckfeld. Today’s Ludwigia are mostly pollinated by Hymenoptera (bees). Therefore, we screened all currently known hymenopteran fossils from Eckfeld but found no Ludwigia pollen adhering to any of the specimens. On the contrary, we discovered Ludwigia pollen adhering to two different groups of Coleoptera (beetles). Our study suggests that during the Eocene of Europe, Ludwigia flowers were visited and probably pollinated by beetles and over time there was a shift in primary flower visitors/pollinators, from beetles to bees, sometime during the late Paleogene to Neogene.

Cousins-Westerberg, R., N. Dakin, L. Schat, G. Kadereit, and A. M. Humphreys. 2023. Evolution of cold tolerance in the highly stress-tolerant samphires and relatives (Salicornieae: Amaranthaceae). Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society.

Low temperature constitutes one of the main barriers to plant distributions, confining many clades to their ancestrally tropical biome. However, recent evidence suggests that transitions from tropical to temperate biomes may be more frequent than previously thought. Here, we study the evolution of cold and frost tolerance in the globally distributed and highly stress-tolerant Salicornieae (Salicornioideae, Amaranthaceae s.l.). We first generate a phylogenetic tree comprising almost all known species (85-90%), using newly generated (n = 106) and published nuclear-ribosomal and plastid sequences. Next, we use geographical occurrence data to document in which clades and geographical regions cold-tolerant species occur and reconstruct how cold tolerance evolved. Finally, we test for correlated evolution between frost tolerance and the annual life form. We find that frost tolerance has evolved independently in up to four Northern Hemisphere lineages but that annuals are no more likely to evolve frost tolerance than perennials, indicating the presence of different strategies for adapting to cold environments. Our findings add to mounting evidence for multiple independent out-of-the-tropics transitions among close relatives of flowering plants and raise new questions about the ecological and physiological mechanism(s) of adaptation to low temperatures in Salicornieae.

Gharde, Y., R. P. Dubey, P. K. Singh, and J. S. Mishra. 2023. Littleseed canarygrass (Phalaris minor Retz.) a major weed of rice-wheat system in India is predicted to experience range contraction under future climate. International Journal of Pest Management: 1–12.

Modelling was carried out using maximum entropy model (MaxEnt) to explore and predict the invasion potential of littleseed canarygrass (Phalaris minor Retz.) in India under current as well as future climatic conditions under Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) 4.5 and 8.5 for the years 2050 and 2070. Mutually least correlated 8 bioclimatic variables along with soil and elevation data were used for the modelling over 223 occurrence locations of the species. Jackknife test revealed the significance of temperature derived variables viz. temperature seasonality, annual mean temperature and minimum temperature of the coldest month in governing the potential distribution of P. minor. Currently, 21% of India’s area is either highly (9%) or moderately (12%) suitable as habitat for P. minor. Our model predicts approximately 90% contraction in the area considered to be highly or moderately suitable climatically between 2050 and 2070 under both moderate and high emissions scenarios. Thus, under future climate, a significant niche shift by the species and decreased suitability was observed compared to the current distribution. The present study is first of its kind in exploring the invasion potential of alien invasive weed P. minor under climate change scenarios which is a current threat to rice-wheat system in Indo-Gangetic plains of India.