Science Enabled by Specimen Data

Smith, A. B., S. J. Murphy, D. Henderson, and K. D. Erickson. 2023. Including imprecisely georeferenced specimens improves accuracy of species distribution models and estimates of niche breadth. Global Ecology and Biogeography. https://doi.org/10.1111/geb.13628

Aim Museum and herbarium specimen records are frequently used to assess the conservation status of species and their responses to climate change. Typically, occurrences with imprecise geolocality information are discarded because they cannot be matched confidently to environmental conditions and are thus expected to increase uncertainty in downstream analyses. However, using only precisely georeferenced records risks undersampling of the environmental and geographical distributions of species. We present two related methods to allow the use of imprecisely georeferenced occurrences in biogeographical analysis. Innovation Our two procedures assign imprecise records to the (1) locations or (2) climates that are closest to the geographical or environmental centroid of the precise records of a species. For virtual species, including imprecise records alongside precise records improved the accuracy of ecological niche models projected to the present and the future, especially for species with c. 20 or fewer precise occurrences. Using only precise records underestimated loss of suitable habitat and overestimated the amount of suitable habitat in both the present and the future. Including imprecise records also improves estimates of niche breadth and extent of occurrence. An analysis of 44 species of North American Asclepias (Apocynaceae) yielded similar results. Main conclusions Existing studies examining the effects of spatial imprecision typically compare outcomes based on precise records against the same records with spatial error added to them. However, in real-world cases, analysts possess a mix of precise and imprecise records and must decide whether to retain or discard the latter. Discarding imprecise records can undersample the geographical and environmental distributions of species and lead to mis-estimation of responses to past and future climate change. Our method, for which we provide a software implementation in the enmSdmX package for R, is simple to use and can help leverage the large number of specimen records that are typically deemed “unusable” because of spatial imprecision in their geolocation.

Dang, A. T. N., M. Reid, and L. Kumar. 2023. Coastal Melaleuca wetlands under future climate and sea-level rise scenarios in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam: vulnerability and conservation. Regional Environmental Change 23. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-022-02009-8

Melaleuca wetland ecosystems play crucial roles in ecology and human livelihood, yet the ecosystems are vulnerable to climate change and relative sea-level rise (SLR) impacts. Documents and research on climate change and SLR impacts on coastal Melaleuca wetlands in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam, are currently limited. Therefore, the present study aimed to identify changes in habitat suitability for a coastal Melaleuca wetland species in response to different future climate change and SLR scenarios, in the West Sea of the Mekong Delta, with the aid of an ensemble species distribution model (SDM) and the Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model (SLAMM). Melaleuca species occurrence records, bioclimatic and eco-physiological variables were utilized to predict potential distribution of the species in response to current and future climate scenarios (i.e. RCP4.5 and 8.5) for the year 2070. Wetland maps for 2020, a digital elevation model (DEM) and localized site-specific parameters (i.e. historic trend of SLR, erosion, subsidence and overwash) were utilized as input data for SLAMM to simulate spatial distribution of Melaleuca/forested wetlands under the two SLR scenarios. The final habitat suitability for the Melaleuca wetland species was identified based on these two resultant datasets, climatic suitability and spatial distribution of the wetlands. Simulated results suggested mean losses in suitable habitat of 29.8% and 58.7% for stable and subsidence scenarios, respectively, for the year 2070 in comparison to the baseline scenario. SLR combined with considerable subsidence rate was suggested as one of the main drivers responsible for the habitat suitability loss. The findings obtained from the current work are useful sources for planning conservation areas for the Melaleuca wetlands, to protect and preserve the ecosystems and their important services under future climate and SLR scenarios.

Chiarenza, A. A., A. M. Waterson, D. N. Schmidt, P. J. Valdes, C. Yesson, P. A. Holroyd, M. E. Collinson, et al. 2022. 100 million years of turtle paleoniche dynamics enable the prediction of latitudinal range shifts in a warming world. Current Biology. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2022.11.056

Past responses to environmental change provide vital baseline data for estimating the potential resilience of extant taxa to future change. Here, we investigate the latitudinal range contraction that terrestrial and freshwater turtles (Testudinata) experienced from the Late Cretaceous to the Paleogene (100.5–23.03 mya) in response to major climatic changes. We apply ecological niche modeling (ENM) to reconstruct turtle niches, using ancient and modern distribution data, paleogeographic reconstructions, and the HadCM3L climate model to quantify their range shifts in the Cretaceous and late Eocene. We then use the insights provided by these models to infer their probable ecological responses to future climate scenarios at different representative concentration pathways (RCPs 4.5 and 8.5 for 2100), which project globally increased temperatures and spreading arid biomes at lower to mid-latitudes. We show that turtle ranges are predicted to expand poleward in the Northern Hemisphere, with decreased habitat suitability at lower latitudes, inverting a trend of latitudinal range contraction that has been prevalent since the Eocene. Trionychids and freshwater turtles can more easily track their niches than Testudinidae and other terrestrial groups. However, habitat destruction and fragmentation at higher latitudes will probably reduce the capability of turtles and tortoises to cope with future climate changes.

Campbell, L. C. E., E. T. Kiers, and G. Chomicki. 2022. The evolution of plant cultivation by ants. Trends in Plant Science. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tplants.2022.09.005

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.

Inman, R. D., T. C. Esque, and K. E. Nussear. 2022. Dispersal limitations increase vulnerability under climate change for reptiles and amphibians in the southwestern United States. The Journal of Wildlife Management. https://doi.org/10.1002/jwmg.22317

Species conservation plans frequently rely on information that spans political and administrative boundaries, especially when predictions are needed of future habitat under climate change; however, most species conservation plans and their requisite predictions of future habitat are often limited in geographical scope. Moreover, dispersal constraints for species of concern are not often incorporated into distribution models, which can result in overly optimistic predictions of future habitat. We used a standard modeling approach across a suite of 23 taxa of amphibians and reptiles in the North American deserts (560,024 km2 across 13 ecoregions) to assess impacts of climate change on habitat and combined landscape population dispersal simulations with species distribution modeling to reduce the risk of predicting future habitat in areas that are not available to species given their dispersal abilities. We used 3 general circulation models and 2 representative concentration pathways (RCPs) to represent multiple scenarios of future habitat potential and assess which study species may be most vulnerable to changes forecasted under each climate scenario. Amphibians were the most vulnerable taxa, but the most vulnerable species tended to be those with the lowest dispersal ability rather than those with the most specialized niches. Under the most optimistic climate scenario considered (RCP 2.6; a stringent scenario requiring declining emissions from 2020 to near zero emissions by 2100), 76% of the study area may experience a loss of >20% of the species examined, while up to 87% of the species currently present may be lost in some areas under the most pessimistic climate scenario (RCP 8.5; a scenario wherein greenhouse gases continue to increase through 2100 based on trajectories from the mid‐century). Most areas with high losses were concentrated in the Arizona and New Mexico Plateau ecoregion, the Edwards Plateau in Texas, and the Southwestern Tablelands in New Mexico and Texas, USA. Under the most pessimistic climate scenario, all species are predicted to lose some existing habitat, with an average of 34% loss of extant habitat across all species. Even under the most optimistic scenario, we detected an average loss of 24% of extant habitat across all species, suggesting that changing climates may influence the ranges of reptiles and amphibians in the Southwest.

Yu, J., Y. Niu, Y. You, C. J. Cox, R. L. Barrett, A. Trias‐Blasi, J. Guo, et al. 2022. Integrated phylogenomic analyses unveil reticulate evolution in Parthenocissus (Vitaceae), highlighting speciation dynamics in the Himalayan‐Hengduan Mountains. New Phytologist. https://doi.org/10.1111/nph.18580

Hybridization caused by frequent environmental changes can lead to both species diversification (speciation) and speciation reversal (despeciation), but the latter has rarely been demonstrated. Parthenocissus, a genus with its trifoliolate lineage in the Himalayan‐Hengduan Mountains (HHM) region showing perplexing phylogenetic relationships, provides an opportunity for investigating speciation dynamics based on integrated evidence.We investigated phylogenetic discordance and reticulate evolution in Parthenocissus based on rigorous analyses of plastome and transcriptome data. We focussed on reticulations in the trifoliolate lineage in the HHM region using a population‐level genome resequencing dataset, incorporating evidence from morphology, distribution, and elevation.Comprehensive analyses confirmed multiple introgressions within Parthenocissus in a robust temporal‐spatial framework. Around the HHM region, at least three hybridization hotspots were identified, one of which showed evidence of ongoing speciation reversal.We present a solid case study using an integrative methodological approach to investigate reticulate evolutionary history and its underlying mechanisms in plants. It demonstrates an example of speciation reversal through frequent hybridizations in the HHM region, which provides new perspectives on speciation dynamics in mountainous areas with strong topographic and environmental heterogeneity.

Tackett, M., C. Berg, T. Simmonds, O. Lopez, J. Brown, R. Ruggiero, and J. Weber. 2022. Breeding system and geospatial variation shape the population genetics of Triodanis perfoliata. Ecology and Evolution 12. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.9382

Both intrinsic and extrinsic forces work together to shape connectivity and genetic variation in populations across the landscape. Here we explored how geography, breeding system traits, and environmental factors influence the population genetic patterns of Triodanis perfoliata, a widespread mix‐mating annual plant in the contiguous US. By integrating population genomic data with spatial analyses and modeling the relationship between a breeding system and genetic diversity, we illustrate the complex ways in which these forces shape genetic variation. Specifically, we used 4705 single nucleotide polymorphisms to assess genetic diversity, structure, and evolutionary history among 18 populations. Populations with more obligately selfing flowers harbored less genetic diversity (π: R2 = .63, p = .01, n = 9 populations), and we found significant population structuring (FST = 0.48). Both geographic isolation and environmental factors played significant roles in predicting the observed genetic diversity: we found that corridors of suitable environments appear to facilitate gene flow between populations, and that environmental resistance is correlated with increased genetic distance between populations. Last, we integrated our genetic results with species distribution modeling to assess likely patterns of connectivity among our study populations. Our landscape and evolutionary genetic results suggest that T. perfoliata experienced a complex demographic and evolutionary history, particularly in the center of its distribution. As such, there is no singular mechanism driving this species' evolution. Together, our analyses support the hypothesis that the breeding system, geography, and environmental variables shape the patterns of diversity and connectivity of T. perfoliata in the US.

Roberts, J., and S. Florentine. 2022. Biology, distribution and management of the globally invasive weed Solanum elaeagnifolium Cav (silverleaf nightshade): A global review of current and future management challenges. Weed Research. https://doi.org/10.1111/wre.12556

Solanum elaeagnifolium Cav (silverleaf nightshade) is a deep-rooted, multi-stemmed, perennial, herbaceous woody plant that has been observed to threaten agricultural and native biodiversity worldwide. It is widely agreed that without efficient integrated management, S. elaeagnifolium will continue to cause significant economic and environmental damage across multiple scales. It is estimated that the annual economic impact of S. elaeagnifolium in Australia exceeds AUD $62 million, with this figure likely to be much higher in other countries invaded by this plant. It can also tolerate a high level of abiotic stress and survive in a range of temperatures (below freezing point to 34°C) and areas with an average yearly rainfall between 250 and 600 mm. Its extensive deep taproot system is capable of regenerating asexually and with its many seed dispersal mechanisms; it can quickly spread and establish itself within a region. This makes containment and management of the species especially challenging. Previous management has largely been focused on biological control, competition, essential oils, grazing pressure, herbicide application and manual removal. Despite the large range of available management techniques, there has been little success in the long-term control of S. elaeagnifolium, and only a handful of methods such as essential oils and herbicide application have shown reasonable success for controlling this weed. Therefore, this review aims to synthesise the identified and potentially useful approaches to control S. elaeagnifolium that have been recorded in the literature which deal with its biology, distribution and management. It also explores previous and current management techniques to ascertain the research gaps and knowledge required to assist in the effective and economically sustainable management of this invasive weed.

Oliveira-Dalland, L. G., L. R. V. Alencar, L. R. Tambosi, P. A. Carrasco, R. M. Rautsaw, J. Sigala-Rodriguez, G. Scrocchi, and M. Martins. 2022. Conservation gaps for Neotropical vipers: Mismatches between protected areas, species richness and evolutionary distinctiveness. Biological Conservation 275: 109750. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2022.109750

The continuous decline in biodiversity despite global efforts to create new protected areas calls into question the effectiveness of these areas in conserving biodiversity. Numerous habitats are absent from the global protected area network, and certain taxonomic groups are not being included in conservation planning. Here, we analyzed the level of protection that the current protected area system provides to viper species in the Neotropical region through a conservation gap analysis. We used distribution size and degree of threat to set species-specific conservation goals for 123 viper species in the form of minimum percentage of their distribution that should be covered by protected areas, and assessed the level of protection provided for each species by overlapping their distribution with protected areas of strict protection. Furthermore, using species richness and evolutionary distinctiveness as priority indicators, we conducted a spatial association analysis to detect areas of special concern. We found that most viper species have <1/4 of their distribution covered by protected areas, including 22 threatened species. Also, the large majority of cells containing high levels of species richness were significantly absent from protected areas, while evolutionary distinctiveness was particularly unprotected in regions with relatively low species richness, like northern Mexico and the Argentinian dry Chaco. Our results provide further evidence that vipers are largely being excluded from conservation planning, leaving them exposed to serious threats that can lead to population decline and ultimately extinction.

Aguirre‐Liguori, J. A., A. Morales‐Cruz, and B. S. Gaut. 2022. Evaluating the persistence and utility of five wild Vitis species in the context of climate change. Molecular Ecology. https://doi.org/10.1111/mec.16715

Crop wild relatives (CWRs) have the capacity to contribute novel traits to agriculture. Given climate change, these contributions may be especially vital for the persistence of perennial crops, because perennials are often clonally propagated and consequently do not evolve rapidly. By studying the landscape genomics of samples from five Vitis CWRs (V. arizonica, V. mustangensis, V. riparia, V. berlandieri and V. girdiana) in the context of projected climate change, we addressed two goals. The first was to assess the relative potential of different CWR accessions to persist in the face of climate change. By integrating species distribution models with adaptive genetic variation, additional genetic features such as genomic load and a phenotype (resistance to Pierce’s Disease), we predicted that accessions from one species (V. mustangensis) are particularly well‐suited to persist in future climates. The second goal was to identify which CWR accessions may contribute to bioclimatic adaptation for grapevine (V. vinifera) cultivation. To do so, we evaluated whether CWR accessions have the allelic capacity to persist if moved to locations where grapevines (V. vinifera) are cultivated in the United States. We identified six candidates from V. mustangensis and hypothesized that they may prove useful for contributing alleles that can mitigate climate impacts on viticulture. By identifying candidate germplasm, this work takes a conceptual step toward assessing the genomic and bioclimatic characteristics of CWRs.