Science Enabled by Specimen Data

Thongsangtum, N., J. Huang, S.-F. Li, Y. Thasod, and T. Su. 2023. Calophyllum (Calophyllaceae) from late Oligocene–Early Miocene of Li Basin, northern Thailand and its biogeographic and paleoclimatic implications. Palaeoworld.

Fossils from tropical Asia, which are far from fully investigated, are important for understanding the evolution of plant diversity and the associated surrounding environment there. In this study, we report, as the first record in Thailand, the well-preserved leaf fossils of Calophyllum Linnaeus (Calophyllaceae) from the upper Oligocene–Lower Miocene lacustrine deposits in Li Basin, northern Thailand. The fossils were identified through detailed comparison with leaves of extant and fossil species. These leaf fossils are assigned to Calophyllum based on several key leaf characteristics such as oblanceolate or oblong in shape and parallel secondary veins, nearly perpendicular to the midvein, as well as secondary veins alternate, closely placed, craspedodromous, parallel, dense, and distinct on surface, forming marginal veins. Based on detailed morphological comparison, these fossil leaves are assigned to C. suraikholaensis Awasthi and Prasad, 1990 and Calophyllum sp. The discovery of Calophyllum indicates a montane subtropical to tropical climate in northern Thailand during the Oligocene–Miocene. Together with previous fossil records, these results suggest that this genus probably originated in India during the Paleogene, and spread from India to Indochina during the Neogene, leading to its modern distribution, which currently prefers tropical climates.

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.

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.

Maurin, O., A. Anest, F. Forest, I. Turner, R. L. Barrett, R. C. Cowan, L. Wang, et al. 2023. Drift in the tropics: Phylogenetics and biogeographical patterns in Combretaceae. Global Ecology and Biogeography.

Aim The aim of this study was to further advance our understanding of the species-rich, and ecologically important angiosperm family Combretaceae to provide new insights into their evolutionary history. We assessed phylogenetic relationships in the family using target capture data and produced a dated phylogenetic tree to assess fruit dispersal modes and patterns of distribution. Location Tropical and subtropical regions. Time Period Cretaceous to present. Major Taxa Studied Family Combretaceae is a member of the rosid clade and comprises 10 genera and more than 500 species, predominantly assigned to genera Combretum and Terminalia, and occurring on all continents and in a wide range of ecosystems. Methods We use a target capture approach and the Angiosperms353 universal probes to reconstruct a robust dated phylogenetic tree for the family. This phylogenetic framework, combined with seed dispersal traits, biome data and biogeographic ranges, allows the reconstruction of the biogeographical history of the group. Results Ancestral range reconstructions suggest a Gondwanan origin (Africa/South America), with several intercontinental dispersals within the family and few transitions between biomes. Relative abundance of fruit dispersal types differed by both continent and biome. However, intercontinental colonizations were only significantly enhanced by water dispersal (drift fruit), and there was no evidence that seed dispersal modes influenced biome shifts. Main Conclusions Our analysis reveals a paradox as drift fruit greatly enhanced dispersal distances at intercontinental scale but did not affect the strong biome conservatism observed.

Lima, V. P., R. A. Ferreira de Lima, F. Joner, L. D’Orangeville, N. Raes, I. Siddique, and H. ter Steege. 2023. Integrating climate change into agroforestry conservation: A case study on native plant species in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. Journal of Applied Ecology.

Designing multispecies systems with suitable climatic affinity and identifying species' vulnerability under human‐driven climate change are current challenges to achieve successful adaptation of natural systems. To address this problem, we need to (1) identify groups of species with climatic similarity under climate scenarios and (2) identify areas with high conservation value under predicted climate change.To recognize species with similar climatic niche requirements that can be grouped for mixed cropping in Brazil, we employed ecological niche models (ENMs) and Spearman's ρ for overlap. We also used prioritization algorithms to map areas of high conservation value using two Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSP2‐4.5 and SSP5‐8.5) to assess mid‐term (2041–2060) and long‐term (2061–2080) climate change impacts.We identified 15 species groups with finer climatic affinities at different times depicted on hierarchical clustering dendrograms, which can be combined into agroecological agroforestry systems. Furthermore, we highlight the climatically suitable areas for these groups of species, thus providing an outlook of where different species will need to be planted over time to be conserved. In addition, we observed that climate change is predicted to modify the spatial association of these groups under different future climate scenarios, causing a mean negative change in species climatic similarity of 9.5% to 13.7% under SSP2‐4.5 scenario and 9.5% to 10.5% under SSP5‐8.5, for 2041–2060 and 2061–2080, respectively.Synthesis and applications. Our findings provide a framework for agroforestry conservation. The groups of species with finer climatic affinities identified and the climatically suitable areas can be combined into agroecological productive systems, and provide an outlook of where different species may be planted over time. In addition, the conservation priority zones displaying high climate stability for each species individually and all at once can be incorporated into Brazil's conservation plans by policymakers to prioritize specific sites. Lastly, we urge policymakers, conservation organizations and donors to promote interventions involving farmers and local communities, since the species' evaluated have proven to maintain landscapes with productive forest fragments and can be conserved in different Brazilian ecosystems.

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.

Richard-Bollans, A., C. Aitken, A. Antonelli, C. Bitencourt, D. Goyder, E. Lucas, I. Ondo, et al. 2023. Machine learning enhances prediction of plants as potential sources of antimalarials. Frontiers in Plant Science 14.

Plants are a rich source of bioactive compounds and a number of plant-derived antiplasmodial compounds have been developed into pharmaceutical drugs for the prevention and treatment of malaria, a major public health challenge. However, identifying plants with antiplasmodial potential can be time-consuming and costly. One approach for selecting plants to investigate is based on ethnobotanical knowledge which, though having provided some major successes, is restricted to a relatively small group of plant species. Machine learning, incorporating ethnobotanical and plant trait data, provides a promising approach to improve the identification of antiplasmodial plants and accelerate the search for new plant-derived antiplasmodial compounds. In this paper we present a novel dataset on antiplasmodial activity for three flowering plant families – Apocynaceae, Loganiaceae and Rubiaceae (together comprising c. 21,100 species) – and demonstrate the ability of machine learning algorithms to predict the antiplasmodial potential of plant species. We evaluate the predictive capability of a variety of algorithms – Support Vector Machines, Logistic Regression, Gradient Boosted Trees and Bayesian Neural Networks – and compare these to two ethnobotanical selection approaches – based on usage as an antimalarial and general usage as a medicine. We evaluate the approaches using the given data and when the given samples are reweighted to correct for sampling biases. In both evaluation settings each of the machine learning models have a higher precision than the ethnobotanical approaches. In the bias-corrected scenario, the Support Vector classifier performs best – attaining a mean precision of 0.67 compared to the best performing ethnobotanical approach with a mean precision of 0.46. We also use the bias correction method and the Support Vector classifier to estimate the potential of plants to provide novel antiplasmodial compounds. We estimate that 7677 species in Apocynaceae, Loganiaceae and Rubiaceae warrant further investigation and that at least 1300 active antiplasmodial species are highly unlikely to be investigated by conventional approaches. While traditional and Indigenous knowledge remains vital to our understanding of people-plant relationships and an invaluable source of information, these results indicate a vast and relatively untapped source in the search for new plant-derived antiplasmodial compounds.

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.

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.

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.

Ramirez-Villegas, J., C. K. Khoury, H. A. Achicanoy, M. V. Diaz, A. C. Mendez, C. C. Sosa, Z. Kehel, et al. 2022. State of ex situ conservation of landrace groups of 25 major crops. Nature Plants 8: 491–499.

Crop landraces have unique local agroecological and societal functions and offer important genetic resources for plant breeding. Recognition of the value of landrace diversity and concern about its erosion on farms have led to sustained efforts to establish ex situ collections worldwide. The degree to which these efforts have succeeded in conserving landraces has not been comprehensively assessed. Here we modelled the potential distributions of eco-geographically distinguishable groups of landraces of 25 cereal, pulse and starchy root/tuber/fruit crops within their geographic regions of diversity. We then analysed the extent to which these landrace groups are represented in genebank collections, using geographic and ecological coverage metrics as a proxy for genetic diversity. We find that ex situ conservation of landrace groups is currently moderately comprehensive on average, with substantial variation among crops; a mean of 63% ± 12.6% of distributions is currently represented in genebanks. Breadfruit, bananas and plantains, lentils, common beans, chickpeas, barley and bread wheat landrace groups are among the most fully represented, whereas the largest conservation gaps persist for pearl millet, yams, finger millet, groundnut, potatoes and peas. Geographic regions prioritized for further collection of landrace groups for ex situ conservation include South Asia, the Mediterranean and West Asia, Mesoamerica, sub-Saharan Africa, the Andean mountains of South America and Central to East Asia. With further progress to fill these gaps, a high degree of representation of landrace group diversity in genebanks is feasible globally, thus fulfilling international targets for their ex situ conservation. By analysing the state of representation of traditional varieties of 25 major crops in ex situ repositories, this study demonstrates conservation progress made over more than a half-century and identifies the gaps remaining to be filled.