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Anest, A., Y. Bouchenak-Khelladi, T. Charles-Dominique, F. Forest, Y. Caraglio, G. P. Hempson, O. Maurin, and K. W. Tomlinson. 2024. Blocking then stinging as a case of two-step evolution of defensive cage architectures in herbivore-driven ecosystems. Nature Plants. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41477-024-01649-4

Dense branching and spines are common features of plant species in ecosystems with high mammalian herbivory pressure. While dense branching and spines can inhibit herbivory independently, when combined, they form a powerful defensive cage architecture. However, how cage architecture evolved under mammalian pressure has remained unexplored. Here we show how dense branching and spines emerged during the age of mammalian radiation in the Combretaceae family and diversified in herbivore-driven ecosystems in the tropics. Phylogenetic comparative methods revealed that modern plant architectural strategies defending against large mammals evolved via a stepwise process. First, dense branching emerged under intermediate herbivory pressure, followed by the acquisition of spines that supported higher speciation rates under high herbivory pressure. Our study highlights the adaptive value of dense branching as part of a herbivore defence strategy and identifies large mammal herbivory as a major selective force shaping the whole plant architecture of woody plants. This study explores the evolution of two traits, branching density and spine presence, in the globally distributed plant family Combretaceae. These traits were found to have appeared in a two-step process in response to mammalian herbivory pressure, revealing the importance of large mammals in the evolution of plant architecture diversity.

Ract, C., N. D. Burgess, L. Dinesen, P. Sumbi, I. Malugu, J. Latham, L. Anderson, et al. 2024. Nature Forest Reserves in Tanzania and their importance for conservation S. S. Romanach [ed.],. PLOS ONE 19: e0281408. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0281408

Since 1997 Tanzania has undertaken a process to identify and declare a network of Nature Forest Reserves (NFRs) with high biodiversity values, from within its existing portfolio of national Forest Reserves, with 16 new NFRs declared since 2015. The current network of 22 gazetted NFRs covered 948,871 hectares in 2023. NFRs now cover a range of Tanzanian habitat types, including all main forest types—wet, seasonal, and dry—as well as wetlands and grasslands. NFRs contain at least 178 of Tanzania’s 242 endemic vertebrate species, of which at least 50% are threatened with extinction, and 553 Tanzanian endemic plant taxa (species, subspecies, and varieties), of which at least 50% are threatened. NFRs also support 41 single-site endemic vertebrate species and 76 single-site endemic plant taxa. Time series analysis of management effectiveness tracking tool (METT) data shows that NFR management effectiveness is increasing, especially where donor funds have been available. Improved management and investment have resulted in measurable reductions of some critical threats in NFRs. Still, ongoing challenges remain to fully contain issues of illegal logging, charcoal production, firewood, pole-cutting, illegal hunting and snaring of birds and mammals, fire, wildlife trade, and the unpredictable impacts of climate change. Increased tourism, diversified revenue generation and investment schemes, involving communities in management, and stepping up control measures for remaining threats are all required to create a network of economically self-sustaining NFRs able to conserve critical biodiversity values.

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. https://doi.org/10.1111/geb.13737

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.

Onditi, K. O., W. Song, X. Li, S. Musila, Z. Chen, Q. Li, J. Mathenge, et al. 2023. Untangling key abiotic predictors of terrestrial mammal diversity patterns across ecoregions and species groups in Kenya. Ecological Indicators 154: 110595. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2023.110595

Understanding the interactions between abiotic (environmental and anthropogenic) factors and species diversity and distribution patterns is fundamental to improving the ecological representativeness of biodiversity management tools such as protected areas (PAs). However, significant knowledge gaps remain about how species’ ecological and evolutionary opportunities are associated with abiotic factors, especially in biodiversity-rich but economically ill-equipped countries such as Kenya. Here, we explored the interactions of terrestrial mammal diversity patterns and abiotic factors across species groups and ecoregions in Kenya. We coupled data on terrestrial mammal occurrences, phylogeny, functional traits, and environmental predictors in Kenya to derive multiple diversity indices, encompassing species richness and phylogenetic and functional richness, and mean pairwise and nearest taxon distances. We explored the interactions of these indices with several abiotic factors using multivariate regression analyses while adjusting for spatial autocorrelation. The results showed weak correlations between species richness versus the phylogenetic and functional diversity indices. The best-fit models explained variable proportions of diversity indices between species groups and ecoregions and consistently retained annual temperature and precipitation averages and seasonality and human footprint as the strongest predictors. Compared to the species-poor xeric northern and eastern Kenya regions, the predictors had weak associations with diversity variances in the species-rich mesic western and central Kenya regions, similar to focal species groups compared to ordinal classifications and the combined species pool. These findings illustrate that climate and human footprint interplay determine multiple facets of terrestrial mammal diversity patterns in Kenya. Accordingly, curbing human activities degrading long-term climatic regimes is vital to ensuring the ecological integrity of terrestrial mammal communities and should be integrated into biodiversity management frameworks. For a holistic representation of critical conservation areas, biodiversity managements should also prioritize terrestrial mammal phylogenetic and functional attributes besides species richness.

Zhang, Q., J. Ye, C. Le, D. M. Njenga, N. R. Rabarijaona, W. O. Omollo, L. Lu, et al. 2022. New insights into the formation of biodiversity hotspots of the Kenyan flora. Diversity and Distributions. https://doi.org/10.1111/ddi.13624

Aim This study aimed to investigate the distribution patterns of plant diversity in Kenya, how climatic fluctuations and orogeny shaped them, and the formation of its β-diversity. Location Kenya, East Africa. Taxon Angiosperms. Methods We quantified patterns of turnover and nestedness components of phylogenetic β-diversity for angiosperm species among neighbouring sites using a well-resolved phylogenetic tree and extensive distribution records from public databases and other published sources. We applied clustering methods to delineate biota based on pairwise similarities among multiple sites and used a random assembly null model to assess the effects of species abundance distribution on phylogenetic β-diversity. Results The phylogenetic turnover of the Kenyan flora, intersecting with the biodiversity hotspots Eastern Afromontane, Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa, and Horn of Africa, shows a non-monotonic pattern along a latitudinal gradient that is strongly structured into volcanic and coastal areas. The other areas are mainly dominated by phylogenetic nestedness, even in the eastern part of the equatorial region parallel to the volcanic area. Phylogenetic diversity and phylogenetic structure analyses explain the mechanism of the observed phylogenetic turnover and nestedness patterns. We identified five phytogeographical regions in Kenya: the Mandera, Turkana, Volcanic, Pan Coastal and West Highland Regions. Conclusions Variations in turnover gradient and coexistence are highly dependent on the regional biogeographical history resulting from climatic fluctuations and long-lasting orogeny, which jointly shaped the biodiversity patterns of the Kenyan flora. The nestedness component dominated climatically unstable regions and is presumed to have been caused by heavy local species extinction and recolonization from the Volcanic Region. The high turnover component in climatically stable regions may have preserved old lineages and the prevalence of endemic species within narrow ranges.

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. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41477-022-01144-8

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.

Odorico, D., E. Nicosia, C. Datizua, C. Langa, R. Raiva, J. Souane, S. Nhalungo, et al. 2022. An updated checklist of Mozambique’s vascular plants. PhytoKeys 189: 61–80. https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.189.75321

An updated checklist of Mozambique’s vascular plants is presented. It was compiled referring to several information sources such as existing literature, relevant online databases and herbaria collections. The checklist includes 7,099 taxa (5,957 species, 605 subspecies, 537 varieties), belonging to …

Meller, P., M. Stellmes, A. Fidelis, and M. Finckh. 2022. Correlates of geoxyle diversity in Afrotropical grasslands. Journal of Biogeography 49: 339–352. https://doi.org/10.1111/jbi.14305

Aim: Tropical old-growth grasslands are increasingly acknowledged as biodiverse ecosystems, but they are understudied in many aspects. Geoxyle species are a key component in many of these ecosystems, their belowground storage organs and bud banks are functionally diverse and contribute to the grassl…

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…

Catarino, S., M. Brilhante, A. P. Essoh, A. B. Charrua, J. Rangel, G. Roxo, E. Varela, et al. 2021. Exploring physicochemical and cytogenomic diversity of African cowpea and common bean. Scientific Reports 11. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-91929-2

In sub-Saharan Africa, grain legumes (pulses) are essential food sources and play an important role in sustainable agriculture. Among the major pulse crops, the native cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) and introduced common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) stand out. This paper has two main goals. First, we provi…