Science Enabled by Specimen Data

Zhao, Y., G. A. O’Neill, and T. Wang. 2023. Predicting fundamental climate niches of forest trees based on species occurrence data. Ecological Indicators 148: 110072.

Species climate niche models (CNMs) have been widely used for assessing climate change impact, developing conservation strategies and guiding assisted migration for adaptation to future climates. However, the CNMs built based on species occurrence data only reflect the species’ realized niche, which can overestimate the potential loss of suitable habitat of existing forests and underestimate the potential of assisted migration to mitigate climate change. In this study, we explored building a fundamental climate niche model using widely available species occurrence data with two important forest tree species, lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta Dougl. ex Loud.) and Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii Franco.), which were introduced to many countries worldwide. We first compared and optimized three individual modeling techniques and their ensemble by adjusting the ratio of presence to absence (p/a) observations using an innovative approach to predict the realized climate niche of the two species. We then extended the realized climate niches to their fundamental niches by determining a new cut-off threshold based on species occurrence data beyond the native distributions. We found that the ensemble model comprising Random Forest and Maxent had the best performance and identified a common cut-off threshold of 0.3 for predicting the fundamental climate niches of the two species, which is likely applicable to other species. We then predicted the fundamental climate niches of the two species under current and future climate conditions. Our study demonstrated a novel approach for predicting species’ fundamental climate niche with high accuracy using only species occurrence data, including both presence and absence data points. It provided a new tool for assessing climate change impact on the future loss of existing forests and implementing assisted migration for better adapting to future climates.

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.

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.

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.

Gómez Díaz, J. A., A. Lira-Noriega, and F. Villalobos. 2023. Expanding protected areas in a Neotropical hotspot. International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology: 1–15.

The region of central Veracruz is considered a biodiversity hotspot due to its high species richness and environmental heterogeneity, but only 2% of this region is currently protected. This study aimed to assess the current protected area system’s effectiveness and to identify priority conservation areas for expanding the existing protected area system. We used the distribution models of 1186 species from three kingdoms (Animalia, Plantae, and Fungi) together with ZONATION software, a conservation planning tool, to determine areas that could help expand the current network of protected areas. We applied three different parametrizations (including only species, using the boundary quality penalty, and using corridor connectivity). We found that protecting an additional 15% of the area would increase, between 16.2% and 19.3%, the protection of the distribution area of all species. We propose that the regions with a consensus of the three parametrizations should be declared as new protected areas to expand 374 km2 to the 216 km2 already protected. Doing so would double the protected surface in central Veracruz. The priority areas identified in this study have more species richness, carbon stock values, natural vegetation cover, and less human impact index than the existing protected areas. If our identified priority areas are declared protected, we could expect a future recovery of endangered species populations for Veracruz. The proposed new protected areas are planned and designed as corridors connecting currently isolated protected areas to promote biodiversity protection.

Foster, S. L., H. M. Kharouba, and T. W. Smith. 2022. Testing the assumption of environmental equilibrium in an invasive plant species over a 130 year history. Ecography.

Invasive plants are an increasing threat to global biodiversity. Effective management depends on accurate predictions of their spread. However, modelling the geographic distribution of invasive species, particularly with correlative species distribution models (SDMs), is challenging. SDMs assume that species are in equilibrium with their environment (i.e. they occur in all suitable environments); this assumption is likely to be violated for a species that is actively invading new environments. This assumption is rarely assessed, and when violated can have consequences for model reliability. Using the invasive vine Vincetoxicum rossicum, we tested the hypotheses that: 1) invasive species' distribution in environmental and geographic space increase to a plateau over time; 2) this plateau is a useful proxy for equilibrium distribution, a key assumption underlying SDMs. We compare V. rossicum's expansion in environmental and geographic space between historical and current time periods and infer equilibrium when its distribution has remained stable for an extended period. We also compare the performance of SDMs from historical time periods in predicting the current geographic distribution of V. rossicum. We found that V. rossicum has reached equilibrium in environmental space, but is still expanding its geographic distribution. SDM performance was poor in the first 30 years following introduction, but improved as V. rossicum approached environmental equilibrium. Our findings demonstrate the power of including temporal dynamics and the need to consider environmental and geographic equilibrium separately when modelling the distribution of invasive species. In light of our findings, we address shortcomings of the current approach to defining an equilibrium distribution and present a new perspective for reconciling the potentially confounding influence of dispersal limitation when assessing equilibrium distribution.

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.

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.

Marcussen, T., H. E. Ballard, J. Danihelka, A. R. Flores, M. V. Nicola, and J. M. Watson. 2022. A Revised Phylogenetic Classification for Viola (Violaceae). Plants 11: 2224.

The genus Viola (Violaceae) is among the 40–50 largest genera among angiosperms, yet its taxonomy has not been revised for nearly a century. In the most recent revision, by Wilhelm Becker in 1925, the then-known 400 species were distributed among 14 sections and numerous unranked groups. Here, we provide an updated, comprehensive classification of the genus, based on data from phylogeny, morphology, chromosome counts, and ploidy, and based on modern principles of monophyly. The revision is presented as an annotated global checklist of accepted species of Viola, an updated multigene phylogenetic network and an ITS phylogeny with denser taxon sampling, a brief summary of the taxonomic changes from Becker’s classification and their justification, a morphological binary key to the accepted subgenera, sections and subsections, and an account of each infrageneric subdivision with justifications for delimitation and rank including a description, a list of apomorphies, molecular phylogenies where possible or relevant, a distribution map, and a list of included species. We distribute the 664 species accepted by us into 2 subgenera, 31 sections, and 20 subsections. We erect one new subgenus of Viola (subg. Neoandinium, a replacement name for the illegitimate subg. Andinium), six new sections (sect. Abyssinium, sect. Himalayum, sect. Melvio, sect. Nematocaulon, sect. Spathulidium, sect. Xanthidium), and seven new subsections (subsect. Australasiaticae, subsect. Bulbosae, subsect. Clausenianae, subsect. Cleistogamae, subsect. Dispares, subsect. Formosanae, subsect. Pseudorupestres). Evolution within the genus is discussed in light of biogeography, the fossil record, morphology, and particular traits. Viola is among very few temperate and widespread genera that originated in South America. The biggest identified knowledge gaps for Viola concern the South American taxa, for which basic knowledge from phylogeny, chromosome counts, and fossil data is virtually absent. Viola has also never been subject to comprehensive anatomical study. Studies into seed anatomy and morphology are required to understand the fossil record of the genus.

Amaral, D. T., I. A. S. Bonatelli, M. Romeiro-Brito, E. M. Moraes, and F. F. Franco. 2022. Spatial patterns of evolutionary diversity in Cactaceae show low ecological representation within protected areas. Biological Conservation 273: 109677.

Mapping biodiversity patterns across taxa and environments is crucial to address the evolutionary and ecological dimensions of species distribution, suggesting areas of particular importance for conservation purposes. Within Cactaceae, spatial diversity patterns are poorly explored, as are the abiotic factors that may predict these patterns. We gathered geographic and genetic data from 921 cactus species by exploring both the occurrence and genetic databases, which are tightly associated with drylands, to evaluate diversity patterns, such as phylogenetic diversity and endemism, paleo-, neo-, and superendemism, and the environmental predictor variables of such patterns in a global analysis. Hotspot areas of cacti diversity are scattered along the Neotropical and Nearctic regions, mainly in the desertic portion of Mesoamerica, Caribbean Island, and the dry diagonal of South America. The geomorphological features of these regions may create a complexity of areas that work as locally buffered zones over time, which triggers local events of diversification and speciation. Desert and dryland/dry forest areas comprise paleo- and superendemism and may act as both museums and cradles of species, displaying great importance for conservation. Past climates, topography, soil features, and solar irradiance seem to be the main predictors of distinct endemism types. The hotspot areas that encompass a major part of the endemism cells are outside or poorly covered by formal protection units. The current legally protected areas are not able to conserve the evolutionary diversity of cacti. Given the rapid anthropogenic disturbance, efforts must be reinforced to monitor biodiversity and the environment and to define/plan current and new protected areas.

Hirabayashi, K., S. J. Murch, and L. A. E. Erland. 2022. Predicted impacts of climate change on wild and commercial berry habitats will have food security, conservation and agricultural implications. Science of The Total Environment 845: 157341.

Climate change is now a reality and is altering ecosystems, with Canada experiencing 2–4 times the global average rate of warming. This will have a critical impact on berry cultivation and horticulture. Enhancing our understanding of how wild and cultivated berries will perform under changing climates will be essential to mitigating impacts on ecosystems, culture and food security. Our objective was to predict the impact of climate change on habitat suitability of four berry producing Vaccinium species: two species with primarily northern distributions (V. uliginosum, V. vitis-idaea), one species with a primarily southern distribution (V. oxycoccos), and the commercially cultivated V. macrocarpon. We used the maximum entropy (Maxent) model and the CMIP6 shared socioeconomic pathways (SSPs) 126 and 585 projected to 2041–2060 and 2061–2080. Wild species showed a uniform northward progression and expansion of suitable habitat. Our modeling predicts that suitable growing regions for commercial cranberries are also likely to shift with some farms becoming unsuitable for the current varieties and other regions becoming more suitable for cranberry farms. Both V. macrocarpon and V. oxycoccos showed a high dependence on precipitation-associated variables. Vaccinium vitis-idaea and V. uliginosum had a greater number of variables with smaller contributions which may improve their resilience to individual climactic events. Future competition between commercial cranberry farms and wild berries in protected areas could lead to conflicts between agriculture and conservation priorities. New varieties of commercial berries are required to maintain current commercial berry farms.

Kendig, A. E., S. Canavan, P. J. Anderson, S. L. Flory, L. A. Gettys, D. R. Gordon, B. V. Iannone III, et al. 2022. Scanning the horizon for invasive plant threats using a data-driven approach. NeoBiota 74: 129–154.

AbstractEarly detection and eradication of invasive plants are more cost-effective than managing well-established invasive plant populations and their impacts. However, there is high uncertainty around which taxa are likely to become invasive in a given area. Horizon scanning that combines a data-driven approach with rapid risk assessment and consensus building among experts can help identify invasion threats. We performed a horizon scan of potential invasive plant threats to Florida, USA—a state with a high influx of introduced species, conditions that are generally favorable for plant establishment, and a history of negative impacts from invasive plants. We began with an initial list of 2128 non-native plant taxa that are known invaders or crop pests. We built on previous invasive species horizon scans by developing data-based criteria to prioritize 100 taxa for rapid risk assessment. The semi-automated prioritization process included selecting taxa “on the horizon” (i.e., not yet in the target location and not on a noxious weed list) with climate matching, naturalization history, “weediness” record, and global commonness. We derived overall invasion risk scores with rapid risk assessment by evaluating the likelihood of each of the taxa arriving, establishing, and having an impact in Florida. Then, following a consensus-building discussion, we identified six plant taxa as high risk, with overall risk scores ranging from 75 to 100 out of a possible 125. The six taxa are globally distributed, easily transported to new areas, found in regions with climates similar to Florida’s, and can impact native plant communities, human health, or agriculture. Finally, we evaluated our initial and final lists for potential biases. Assessors tended to assign higher risk scores to taxa that had more available information. In addition, we identified biases towards four plant families and certain geographical regions of origin. Our horizon scan approach identified taxa conforming to metrics of high invasion risk and used a methodology refined for plants that can be applied to other locations.