Science Enabled by Specimen Data

Whipple, S., and S. Moss. 2024. Leveraging virtual datasets to investigate the interplay of pollinators, protected areas, and SDG 15. Sustainable Earth Reviews 7. https://doi.org/10.1186/s42055-024-00084-9

Biodiversity loss amplifies the need for taxonomic understanding at global, regional, and local scales. The United Nations Environmental Programme Sustainable Development Goals are explicit in their demand for greater accountability with respect to ecosystem management, and Sustainable Development Goal 15, Life on Land, specifically calls for a halt to biodiversity loss. Pollinators (bees and butterflies) are two functional groups with public attention for protection, yet little long-term data availability. National Parks, including those in the United States, act as optimal sites to study biodiversity loss, but historic data tends to vary in availability. This study addresses systematic taxonomic and digitalization biases present within historic (museum), modern (citizen science), and non-digitized (private collection) datasets for Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks from 1900 to 2021. We find that, although database record availability is representative of butterfly and bumble bee groups known for the area, categories such as data rescue, digitalization/availability, and management/archiving vary across database types. These findings on virtual datasets offer opportunities for conservationists to understand the efficacy of digitized collections in addressing questions of species loss over time, including the strengths and pitfalls of digitized data repositories. Additionally, virtual datasets can be utilized to monitor biodiversity under Sustainable Development Goal 15 targets while also promoting broader access to resources such as museum collections for educational purposes. Natural history collections (NHCs) work to preserve biodiversity but tend to hold taxonomic biases. The rapid digitalization of species occurrence data works to improve biodiversity understanding. Pollinator NHCs can inform conservation targets like SDG 15, but only for a subset of species. Additional funding towards data digitalization will broaden the understanding of lesser-known taxa. Virtual museum resources should become more readily accessible to educate and engage the public in species conservation work; citizen science applications can act as an additional educational tool to promote public conservation interest. International biodiversity sampling efforts should be encouraged to document species decline.

Zachos, L. G., and A. Ziegler. 2024. Selective concentration of iron, titanium, and zirconium substrate minerals within Gregory’s diverticulum, an organ unique to derived sand dollars (Echinoidea: Scutelliformes). PeerJ 12: e17178. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.17178

Gregory’s diverticulum, a digestive tract structure unique to a derived group of sand dollars (Echinoidea: Scutelliformes), is filled with sand grains obtained from the substrate the animals inhabit. The simple methods of shining a bright light through a specimen or testing response to a magnet can reveal the presence of a mineral-filled diverticulum. Heavy minerals with a specific gravity of >2.9 g/cm3 are selectively concentrated inside the organ, usually at concentrations one order of magnitude, or more, greater than found in the substrate. Analyses of diverticulum content for thirteen species from nine genera, using optical mineralogy, powder X-ray diffraction, scanning electron microscopy and energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy, as well as micro-computed tomography shows the preference for selection of five major heavy minerals: magnetite (Fe3O4), hematite (Fe2O3), ilmenite (FeTiO3), rutile (TiO2), and zircon (ZrSiO4). Minor amounts of heavy or marginally heavy amphibole, pyroxene and garnet mineral grains may also be incorporated. In general, the animals exhibit a preference for mineral grains with a specific gravity of >4.0 g/cm3, although the choice is opportunistic and the actual mix of mineral species depends on the mineral composition of the substrate. The animals also select for grain size, with mineral grains generally in the range of 50 to 150 μm, and do not appear to alter this preference during ontogeny. A comparison of analytical methods demonstrates that X-ray attenuation measured using micro-computed tomography is a reliable non-destructive method for heavy mineral quantification when supported by associated analyses of mineral grains extracted destructively from specimens or from substrate collected together with the specimens. Commonalities in the electro-chemical surface properties of the ingested minerals suggest that such characteristics play an important role in the selection process.

Melo‐Merino, S. M., A. Lira‐Noriega, F. J. González‐Barrios, H. Reyes‐Bonilla, and L. Álvarez‐Filip. 2022. Functional divergence from ecological baselines on Caribbean coral reefs. Ecography 2022. https://doi.org/10.1111/ecog.05811

Understanding how emergent ecological assemblages have diverged from natural states is fundamental in predicting future functioning and services of ecosystems. Coral reefs are of particular concern due to their high susceptibility to anthropogenic stressors. Yet, little is known about their pre-dist…

Strona, G., P. S. A. Beck, M. Cabeza, S. Fattorini, F. Guilhaumon, F. Micheli, S. Montano, et al. 2021. Ecological dependencies make remote reef fish communities most vulnerable to coral loss. Nature Communications 12. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-27440-z

Ecosystems face both local hazards, such as over-exploitation, and global hazards, such as climate change. Since the impact of local hazards attenuates with distance from humans, local extinction risk should decrease with remoteness, making faraway areas safe havens for biodiversity. However, isolat…

Sharifian, S., E. Kamrani, and H. Saeedi. 2021. Insights toward the future potential distribution of mangrove crabs in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman. Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research 59: 1620–1631. https://doi.org/10.1111/jzs.12532

Mangroves are an ideal habitat for brachyuran crabs because of nutritional and shelter support. Using maximum entropy (MaxEnt) modeling technique, we projected the potential global distributions of 10 dominant species of mangrove crabs from the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman under future climate c…

Lewthwaite, J. M. M., and A. Ø. Mooers. 2021. Geographical homogenization but little net change in the local richness of Canadian butterflies A. Baselga [ed.],. Global Ecology and Biogeography 31: 266–279. https://doi.org/10.1111/geb.13426

Aim: Recent studies have found that local-scale plots measured through time exhibit marked variation in the change in species richness. However, the overall effect often reveals no net change. Most studies to date have been agnostic about the identities of the species lost/gained and about the proce…

Xue, T., S. R. Gadagkar, T. P. Albright, X. Yang, J. Li, C. Xia, J. Wu, and S. Yu. 2021. Prioritizing conservation of biodiversity in an alpine region: Distribution pattern and conservation status of seed plants in the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. Global Ecology and Conservation 32: e01885. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gecco.2021.e01885

The Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau (QTP) harbors abundant and diverse plant life owing to its high habitat heterogeneity. However, the distribution pattern of biodiversity hotspots and their conservation status remain unclear. Based on 148,283 high-resolution occurrence coordinates of 13,450 seed plants, w…

McManamay, R. A., C. R. Vernon, and H. I. Jager. 2021. Global Biodiversity Implications of Alternative Electrification Strategies Under the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways. Biological Conservation 260: 109234. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2021.109234

Addressing climate mitigation while meeting global electrification goals will require major transitions from fossil-fuel dependence to large-scale renewable energy deployment. However, renewables require significant land assets per unit energy and could come at high cost to ecosystems, creating pote…

Hughes, A. C., M. C. Orr, K. Ma, M. J. Costello, J. Waller, P. Provoost, Q. Yang, et al. 2021. Sampling biases shape our view of the natural world. Ecography 44: 1259–1269. https://doi.org/10.1111/ecog.05926

Spatial patterns of biodiversity are inextricably linked to their collection methods, yet no synthesis of bias patterns or their consequences exists. As such, views of organismal distribution and the ecosystems they make up may be incorrect, undermining countless ecological and evolutionary studies.…

Oegelund Nielsen, R., R. da Silva, J. Juergens, J. Staerk, L. Lindholm Sørensen, J. Jackson, S. Q. Smeele, and D. A. Conde. 2020. Standardized data to support conservation prioritization for sharks and batoids (Elasmobranchii). Data in Brief 33: 106337. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dib.2020.106337

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