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Cheeseman, A. E., D. S. Jachowski, and R. Kays. 2024. From past habitats to present threats: tracing North American weasel distributions through a century of climate and land use change. Landscape Ecology 39. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-024-01902-3

Context Shifts in climate and land use have dramatically reshaped ecosystems, impacting the distribution and status of wildlife populations. For many species, data gaps limit inference regarding population trends and links to environmental change. This deficiency hinders our ability to enact meaningful conservation measures to protect at risk species. Objectives We investigated historical drivers of environmental niche change for three North American weasel species (American ermine, least weasel, and long-tailed weasel) to understand their response to environmental change. Methods Using species occurrence records and corresponding environmental data, we developed species-specific environmental niche models for the contiguous United States (1938–2021). We generated annual hindcasted predictions of the species’ environmental niche, assessing changes in distribution, area, and fragmentation in response to environmental change. Results We identified a 54% decline in suitable habitat alongside high levels of fragmentation for least weasels and region-specific trends for American ermine and long-tailed weasels; declines in the West and increased suitability in the East. Climate and land use were important predictors of the environmental niche for all species. Changes in habitat amount and distribution reflected widespread land use changes over the past century while declines in southern and low-elevation areas are consistent with impacts from climatic change. Conclusions Our models uncovered land use and climatic change as potential historic drivers of population change for North American weasels and provide a basis for management recommendations and targeted survey efforts. We identified potentially at-risk populations and a need for landscape-level planning to support weasel populations amid ongoing environmental changes.

Owen, E., M. Zuliani, M. Goldgisser, and C. Lortie. 2024. The importance of native shrubs on the distribution and diversity of reptiles and amphibians in the central drylands of Southwestern USA. Biodiversity and Conservation 33: 2131–2151. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-024-02851-8

Conservation and management of drylands is a global challenge. Key attributes of these ecosystems, such as dominant vegetation including shrubs, can provide a crucial mechanism to inform conservation strategies. The shrub species Ephedra californica and Larrea tridentata are common native shrub species within the deserts of California and frequently benefit other plant and animal species. Here, we tested the hypothesis that shrubs support reptile and amphibian communities through relative increases in available habitat, estimated through increasing shrub densities at the site level. Reported occurrence data from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) and high-resolution satellite images were used to test for local-to-regional patterns in reptile and amphibian distribution and diversity by shrub densities at sites. At 43 distinct sites, the relationship between shrub density and reported reptile and amphibian communities was also tested. A total of 71 reptile and amphibian species were reported regionally. Increases in shrub density across sites positively influenced the relative abundance and richness of reptiles and amphibians observed. Moreover, increasing shrub density also had a positive influence on species evenness. Aridity differences between sites did not significantly influence the relationship between shrub density and reptiles and amphibians suggesting that the relationship was robust. This study highlights the importance of foundational shrub species in supporting reptile and amphibian communities in arid and semi-arid regions. Large-scale patterns of biodiversity in deserts can be supported by positive plant-animal interactions including small islands of fertility and resources for animals in the context of a warming climate.

DuBose, T. P., V. Catalan, C. E. Moore, V. R. Farallo, A. L. Benson, J. L. Dade, W. A. Hopkins, and M. C. Mims. 2024. Thermal Traits of Anurans Database for the Southeastern United States (TRAD): A Database of Thermal Trait Values for 40 Anuran Species. Ichthyology & Herpetology 112. https://doi.org/10.1643/h2022102

Thermal traits, or how an animal responds to changing temperatures, impacts species persistence and thus biodiversity. Trait databases, as repositories of consolidated, measured organismal attributes, allow researchers to link study species with specific trait values, enabling comparisons within and among species. Trait databases also help lay the groundwork to build mechanistic linkages between organisms and the environment. However, missing or hidden physiological trait data preclude building mechanistic estimates of climate change vulnerability for many species. Thus, physiologically focused trait databases present an opportunity to consolidate data and enable species-specific or multispecies, mechanistic evaluations of climate change vulnerability. Here, we present TRAD: thermal traits of anurans database for the southeastern United States, a database of thermal trait values related to physiological thermoregulation (critical thermal minima and maxima, preferred temperature), behavioral thermoregulation (activity period, retreat emergence temperature, basking temperature, minimum and maximum foraging temperatures), and body mass for 37 anuran species found within the southeastern United States. In total, TRAD contains 858 reported trait values for 37 of 40 species found in the region from 267 peer-reviewed papers, dissertations, or theses and is easily linked with trait data available in ATraiU, an ecological trait database for anurans in the United States. TRAD contains trait values for multiple life stages and a summarization of interspecific adult trait values. Availability of trait data varied widely among traits and species. Estimates of mass were the most common trait values reported, with values available for 32 species. Behavioral trait values comprised 23% of our database, with activity period available for 34 species. We found the most trait values for Cope's Gray Treefrog (Dryophytes chrysoscelis), with at least one trait value for eight traits in the database. Conversely, species in the genus Pseudacris generally had the fewest trait values available. Species with the largest geographic range sizes also had the greatest coverage of data across traits (rho 5 0.75, P , 0.001). TRAD can aid studies of anuran response to changing temperatures, physiological niche space and limitations, and potential drivers of anuran geographic range limits, influencing our understanding of other ecological and evolutionary patterns and processes and enabling multispecies comparisons of potential risk and resilience in the face of climate change.

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.

Scarpetta, S. G. 2024. A Palaeogene stem crotaphytid ( Aciprion formosum ) and the phylogenetic affinities of early fossil pleurodontan iguanians. Royal Society Open Science 11. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.221139

Pleurodonta is an ancient, diverse clade of iguanian lizard distributed primarily in the Western Hemisphere. Although the clade is a frequent subject of systematic research, phylogenetic resolution among the major pleurodontan clades is elusive. That uncertainty has complicated the interpretations of many fossil pleurodontans. I describe a fossil skull of a pleurodontan lizard from the Palaeogene of Wyoming that was previously allocated to the puzzling taxon Aciprion formosum , and provide an updated morphological matrix for iguanian lizards. Phylogenetic analyses using Bayesian inference demonstrate that the fossil skull is the oldest and first definitive stem member of Crotaphytidae (collared and leopard lizards), establishing the presence of that clade in North America during the Palaeogene. I also discuss new or revised hypotheses for the relationships of several early pleurodontans. In particular, I examine potential evidence for crown-Pleurodonta in the Cretaceous of Mongolia ( Polrussia ), stem Pleurodonta in the Cretaceous of North America ( Magnuviator ) and a stem anole in the Eocene of North America ( Afairiguana ). I suggest that the placement of the fossil crotaphytid is stable to the uncertain phylogeny of Pleurodonta, but recognize the dynamic nature of fossil diagnosis and the potential for updated systematic hypotheses for the other fossils analysed here.

Gherghel, I., and R. A. Martin. 2024. Biotic interactions vary across species’ ranges and are likely conserved through geological time. Journal of Biogeography. https://doi.org/10.1111/jbi.14794

Aim The evolutionary interactions between western spadefoot toads (genus Spea) represent a textbook example of character displacement, facilitated by dietary specialization of one Spea species on fairy shrimp (Anostraca) when all three co‐occur. The aim of this study is to understand the covariation between predator (Spea) and prey (Anostraca) range shifts in response to climate change oscillations, and whether biotic interactions can be used to project species distribution models on different time scales when studying species with dietary specialization. Taxon: Amphibia: Spea spp. and Crustacea: Anostraca.LocationNorth America.MethodsUsing multiple modelling techniques, we first estimated the potential distribution of central and western North American fairy shrimp species (Crustacea: Anostraca) and two western spadefoot toad species (Spea bombifrons and Spea multiplicata). We then created a shrimp species richness map by aggregating individual species estimates. Third, we studied the relationship between the probability of spadefoot toad presence and fairy shrimp species richness during the present and Last Glacial Maximum conditions. Finally, we estimated the strength and direction of the co‐occurrence between spadefoot toads and fairy shrimp sampled at the level of entire predicted range and at the regional level (allopatric and sympatric).ResultsFirst, the same abiotic environmental variables shape spadefoot toad and fairy shrimp species' distributions in central and western North America across time. Second, areas of sympatry of Spea bombifrons and Spea multiplicata correspond with dry conditions and higher shrimp richness. Finally, the spatial patterns of predator–prey co‐occurrence are highly variable across geography, forming a spatial mosaic over the species' ranges.Main ConclusionPredator–prey relationships form a spatial mosaic across geography and species ranges. Including biotic interactions into species distribution estimates for organisms with dietary specialization is highly recommended. Biotic interactions can be projected across different time frames for organisms with dietary specialization as they are likely conserved.

Cruz, J. A., J. A. Velasco, J. Arroyo-Cabrales, and E. Johnson. 2023. Paleoclimatic Reconstruction Based on the Late Pleistocene San Josecito Cave Stratum 720 Fauna Using Fossil Mammals, Reptiles, and Birds. Diversity 15: 881. https://doi.org/10.3390/d15070881

Advances in technology have equipped paleobiologists with new analytical tools to assess the fossil record. The functional traits of vertebrates have been used to infer paleoenvironmental conditions. In Quaternary deposits, birds are the second-most-studied group after mammals. They are considered a poor paleoambiental proxy because their high vagility and phenotypic plasticity allow them to respond more effectively to climate change. Investigating multiple groups is important, but it is not often attempted. Biogeographical and climatic niche information concerning small mammals, reptiles, and birds have been used to infer the paleoclimatic conditions present during the Late Pleistocene at San Josecito Cave (~28,000 14C years BP), Mexico. Warmer and dryer conditions are inferred with respect to the present. The use of all of the groups of small vertebrates is recommended because they represent an assemblage of species that have gone through a series of environmental filters in the past. Individually, different vertebrate groups provide different paleoclimatic information. Birds are a good proxy for inferring paleoprecipitation but not paleotemperature. Together, reptiles and small mammals are a good proxy for inferring paleoprecipitation and paleotemperature, but reptiles alone are a bad proxy, and mammals alone are a good proxy for inferring paleotemperature and precipitation. The current paleoclimatic results coupled with those of a previous vegetation structure analysis indicate the presence of non-analog paleoenvironmental conditions during the Late Pleistocene in the San Josecito Cave area. This situation would explain the presence of a disharmonious fauna and the extinction of several taxa when these conditions later disappeared and do not reappear again.

Bharti, D. K., P. Y. Pawar, G. D. Edgecombe, and J. Joshi. 2023. Genetic diversity varies with species traits and latitude in predatory soil arthropods (Myriapoda: Chilopoda). Global Ecology and Biogeography. https://doi.org/10.1111/geb.13709

Aim To investigate the drivers of intra-specific genetic diversity in centipedes, a group of ancient predatory soil arthropods. Location Asia, Australasia and Europe. Time Period Present. Major Taxa Studied Centipedes (Class: Chilopoda). Methods We assembled a database of 1245 mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase subunit I sequences representing 128 centipede species from all five orders of Chilopoda. This sequence dataset was used to estimate genetic diversity for centipede species and compare its distribution with estimates from other arthropod groups. We studied the variation in centipede genetic diversity with species traits and biogeography using a beta regression framework, controlling for the effect of shared evolutionary history within a family. Results A wide variation in genetic diversity across centipede species (0–0.1713) falls towards the higher end of values among arthropods. Overall, 27.57% of the variation in mitochondrial COI genetic diversity in centipedes was explained by a combination of predictors related to life history and biogeography. Genetic diversity decreased with body size and latitudinal position of sampled localities, was greater in species showing maternal care and increased with geographic distance among conspecifics. Main Conclusions Centipedes fall towards the higher end of genetic diversity among arthropods, which may be related to their long evolutionary history and low dispersal ability. In centipedes, the negative association of body size with genetic diversity may be mediated by its influence on local abundance or the influence of ecological strategy on long-term population history. Species with maternal care had higher genetic diversity, which goes against expectations and needs further scrutiny. Hemispheric differences in genetic diversity can be due to historic climatic stability and lower seasonality in the southern hemisphere. Overall, we find that despite the differences in mean genetic diversity among animals, similar processes related to life-history strategy and biogeography are associated with the variation within them.

Dauwalter, D. C., E. Miskow, and C. Crookshanks. 2023. Spatial Conservation Assessment for Native Fishes in the Lahontan and Central Nevada Basins, USA. Water 15: 1087. https://doi.org/10.3390/w15061087

Freshwater biodiversity is declining faster than terrestrial and marine biodiversity. The protection and restoration of aquatic habitats are based, in part, on stemming this decline. We conducted a spatial conservation assessment of native fishes in the Lahontan and central Nevada basins using core-area zonation. The complementarity-based assessment yielded a landscape value (rank) of all subwatersheds (12-digit hydrologic unit code; ~12,000 ha) whereby high-ranking subwatersheds, as a set, maximized the representation of all native species, subspecies, and the within-species ecological diversity of salmonids, while accounting for aquatic connectivity and risk of aquatic habitat degradation. The high-ranking subwatersheds encapsulated small patches of habitat inhabited by endemic desert fishes, as in the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. They also highlighted clusters of high-value subwatersheds, such as in the Truckee River watershed that has extant populations of, and historical habitat for, Lahontan cutthroat trout in its headwaters, with species such as the mountain whitefish with migratory life histories, and endemic cui-ui, Chasmistes cujus, at Pyramid Lake—a terminal lake. Both the Truckee River headwaters and Pyramid Lake have been recipients of ongoing native fish conservation efforts. The landscape rankings will be used by the Desert Fish Habitat Partnership to inform regional conservation investments, and the rankings are available for broader use by resource agencies working on native fish conservation at landscape scales.

Hausdorf, B. 2023. Distribution patterns of established alien land snail species in the Western Palaearctic Region. NeoBiota 81: 1–32. https://doi.org/10.3897/neobiota.81.96360

AbstractEstablished alien land snail species that were introduced into the Western Palaearctic Region from other regions and their spread in the Western Palaearctic are reviewed. Thirteen of the 22 species came from North America, three from Sub-Saharan Africa, two from the Australian region, three probably from the Oriental Region and one from South America. The establishment of outdoor populations of these species was usually first seen at the western or southern rims of the Western Palearctic. Within Europe, the alien species usually spread from south to north and from west to east. The latitudinal ranges of the alien species significantly increased with increasing time since the first record of introduction to the Western Palearctic. The latitudinal mid-points of the Western Palaearctic and native ranges of the species are significantly correlated when one outlier is omitted. There is a general trend of poleward shifts of the ranges of the species in the Western Palaearctic compared to their native ranges. There are three reasons for these shifts: (1) the northward expansion of some species in Western Europe facilitated by the oceanic climate, (2) the impediment to the colonisation of southern latitudes in the Western Palaearctic due to their aridity and (3) the establishment of tropical species in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Most of the species are small, not carnivorous and unlikely to cause serious ecological or economic damage. In contrast, the recently introduced large veronicellid slugs from Sub-Saharan Africa and the giant African snail Lissachatinafulica could cause economic damage in irrigated agricultural areas or greenhouses in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.