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Science Enabled by Specimen Data

Louw, G. J., L. J. Potgieter, and D. M. Richardson. 2024. Myoporum (Scrophulariaceae): Introduction, naturalization, and invasion of an enigmatic tree genus in South Africa. South African Journal of Botany 168: 529–541. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sajb.2024.03.022

Myoporum is a genus of trees and shrubs native to the Northern Hemisphere that has been introduced to many parts of the world, mainly for ornamental purposes. We assessed the introduction history, distribution, and extent of naturalization/invasion for Myoporum species in South Africa.Information was collated to determine key events associated with the introduction, establishment, and naturalization of Myoporum in South Africa. Data were collated to determine the current distribution of the genus in South Africa. Twenty sites in the Western Cape were sampled to determine correlates of naturalization. Myoporum was first recorded in South Africa in 1934. Three species were confirmed to be present in South Africa: M. insulare, M. laetum and M. montanum (37 %, 25 % and 24 % of all iNaturalist records respectively). Most records are from the Western Cape (91 %) and small parts of the Eastern Cape; isolated populations occur in Gauteng and the Northern Cape. We could not confirm the presence M. petiolatum, M. tenuifolium or M. tetrandrum. Field surveys revealed widespread naturalization of M. insulare (46 % of all Research Grade observations in iNaturalist); this species was categorized code D1 in the introduction-naturalization-invasion continuum. Myoporum laetum (C3) and M. montanum (C2) are also widely naturalized but over smaller areas. Naturalized populations comprised predominantly juvenile M. insulare plants occurring in highly disturbed (transformed) habitats. Formal risk analyses for all Myoporum species in South Africa are needed as the basis for re-evaluation of their status in national legislation.

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. https://doi.org/10.1093/botlinnean/boad009

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.

Liu, S., S. Xia, D. Wu, J. E. Behm, Y. Meng, H. Yuan, P. Wen, et al. 2022. Understanding global and regional patterns of termite diversity and regional functional traits. iScience: 105538. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.isci.2022.105538

Our understanding of broad-scale biodiversity and functional trait patterns is largely based on plants, and relatively little information is available on soil arthropods. Here, we investigated the distribution of termite diversity globally and morphological traits and diversity across China. Our analyses showed increasing termite species richness with decreasing latitude at both the globally, and within-China. Additionally, we detected obvious latitudinal trends in the mean community value of termite morphological traits on average, with body size and leg length decreasing with increasing latitude. Furthermore, temperature, NDVI and water variables were the most important drivers controlling the variation in termite richness, and temperature and soil properties were key drivers of the geographic distribution of termite morphological traits. Our global termite richness map is one of the first high resolution maps for any arthropod group and especially given the functional importance of termites, our work provides a useful baseline for further ecological analysis.

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. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2022.110985

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.

Orr, M. C., A. C. Hughes, D. Chesters, J. Pickering, C.-D. Zhu, and J. S. Ascher. 2021. Global Patterns and Drivers of Bee Distribution. Current Biology 31: 451-458.e4. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.10.053

Insects are the focus of many recent studies suggesting population declines, but even invaluable pollination service providers such as bees lack a modern distributional synthesis. Here, we combine a uniquely comprehensive checklist of bee species distributions and >5,800,000 public bee occurrence re…

Cooper, N., A. L. Bond, J. L. Davis, R. Portela Miguez, L. Tomsett, and K. M. Helgen. 2019. Sex biases in bird and mammal natural history collections. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 286: 20192025. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2019.2025

Natural history specimens are widely used across ecology, evolutionary biology and conservation. Although biological sex may influence all of these areas, it is often overlooked in large-scale studies using museum specimens. If collections are biased towards one sex, studies may not be representativ…

Li, X., B. Li, G. Wang, X. Zhan, and M. Holyoak. 2020. Deeply digging the interaction effect in multiple linear regressions using a fractional-power interaction term. MethodsX 7: 101067. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mex.2020.101067

In multiple regression Y ~ β0 + β1X1 + β2X2 + β3X1 X2 + ɛ., the interaction term is quantified as the product of X1 and X2. We developed fractional-power interaction regression (FPIR), using βX1M X2N as the interaction term. The rationale of FPIR is that the slopes of Y-X1 regression along the X2 gr…

Hochmair, H. H., R. H. Scheffrahn, M. Basille, and M. Boone. 2020. Evaluating the data quality of iNaturalist termite records P. Barden [ed.],. PLOS ONE 15: e0226534. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0226534

Citizen science (CS) contributes to the knowledge about species distributions, which is a critical foundation in the studies of invasive species, biological conservation, and response to climatic change. In this study, we assessed the value of CS for termites worldwide. First, we compared the abunda…

Weterings, R., M. Barbetti, and H. L. Buckley. 2019. Hypothesis: Do invasive house geckos exacerbate dengue fever epidemics? Biological Invasions 21: 3533–3543. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-019-02066-x

Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne disease that has undergone a marked rise in incidence since the 1950s, throughout the world’s tropical regions. Here, we present a hypothesis that this rise in incidence may have been exacerbated by the invasion of house geckos, due to their role in the mosquito vect…