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Baltensperger, A. P., H. C. Lanier, and L. E. Olson. 2024. Extralimital terrestrials: A reassessment of range limits in Alaska’s land mammals J. R. Michaux [ed.],. PLOS ONE 19: e0294376. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0294376

Understanding and mitigating the effects of anthropogenic climate change on species distributions requires the ability to track range shifts over time. This is particularly true for species occupying high-latitude regions, which are experiencing more extreme climate change than the rest of the world. In North America, the geographic ranges of many mammals reach their northernmost extent in Alaska, positioning this region at the leading edge of climate-induced distribution change. Over a decade has elapsed since the publication of the last spatial assessments of terrestrial mammals in the state. We compared public occurrence records against commonly referenced range maps to evaluate potential extralimital records and develop repeatable baseline range maps. We compared occurrence records from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility for 61 terrestrial mammal species native to mainland Alaska against a variety of range estimates (International Union for Conservation of Nature, Alaska Gap Analysis Project, and the published literature). We mapped extralimital records and calculated proportions of occurrences encompassed by range extents, measured mean direction and distance to prior range margins, evaluated predictive accuracy of published species models, and highlighted observations on federal lands in Alaska. Range comparisons identified 6,848 extralimital records for 39 of 61 (63.9%) terrestrial mainland Alaskan species. On average, 95.5% of Alaska Gap Analysis Project occurrence records and ranges were deemed accurate (i.e., > 90.0% correct) for 31 of 37 species, but overestimated extents for 13 species. The International Union for Conservation of Nature range maps encompassed 68.1% of occurrence records and were > 90% accurate for 17 of 39 species. Extralimital records represent either improved sampling and digitization or actual geographic range expansions. Here we provide new data-driven range maps, update standards for the archiving of museum-quality locational records and offer recommendations for mapping range changes for monitoring and conservation.

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.

Luna-Aranguré, C., and E. Vázquez-Domínguez. 2024. Bears into the Niche-Space: Phylogeography and Phyloclimatic Model of the Family Ursidae. Diversity 16: 223. https://doi.org/10.3390/d16040223

Assessing niche evolution remains an open question and an actively developing area of study. The family Ursidae consists of eight extant species for which, despite being the most studied family of carnivores, little is known about the influence of climate on their evolutionary history and diversification. We evaluated their evolutionary patterns based on a combined phylogeography and niche modeling approach. We used complete mitogenomes, estimated divergence times, generated ecological niche models and applied a phyloclimatic model to determine the species evolutionary and diversification patterns associated with their respective environmental niches. We inferred the family evolutionary path along the environmental conditions of maximum temperature and minimum precipitation, from around 20 million years ago to the present. Our findings show that the phyloclimatic niches of the bear species occupy most of the environmental space available on the planet, except for the most extreme warm conditions, in accordance with the wide geographic distribution of Ursidae. Moreover, some species exhibit broader environmental niches than others, and in some cases, they explore precipitation axes more extensively than temperature axes or vice versa, suggesting that not all species are equally adaptable to these variables. We were able to elucidate potential patterns of niche conservatism and evolution, as well as niche overlapping, suggesting interspecific competitive exclusion between some of the bear species. We present valuable insights into the ecological and evolutionary processes driving the diversification and distribution of the Ursidae. Our approach also provides essential information for guiding effective conservation strategies, particularly in terms of distribution limits in the face of climate change.

Rojas‐Soto, O., J. S. Forero‐Rodríguez, A. Galindo‐Cruz, C. Mota‐Vargas, K. D. Parra‐Henao, A. Peña‐Peniche, J. Piña‐Torres, et al. 2024. Calibration areas in ecological niche and species distribution modelling: Unravelling approaches and concepts. Journal of Biogeography. https://doi.org/10.1111/jbi.14834

AbstractAimThe calibration area (CA) corresponds to the geographic region used by different algorithms that estimate the species' environmental preferences and delimit its geographic distribution. This study intended to identify, test and compare current literature's most commonly employed approaches and methods for CA creation, highlighting the differences with the accessible area (M), a frequently misapplied concept.LocationGlobal.TaxonArthropods, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.MethodsWe conducted a literature review and analysed 129 recent articles on species distribution that use correlative models to identify the methods used to establish the CA and their frequency. We also evaluated seven of the most widely used methods for 31 species from different taxa.ResultsWe found that the most frequently used methods in literature corresponded to biogeographic entities (BE). Moreover, according to our evaluation, those methods that seek to establish the CA through the accessible area approach (including BE and ‘grinnell’) were the best evaluated. Finally, we highlight the advantages and disadvantages of the analysed methods in selecting CA.Main ConclusionsAlthough we cannot fail to recognize the usefulness and validity of the different methods to establish CAs, we suggest calibrating ecological niche and species distribution models in light of explicit a priori hypotheses regarding the extent of accessible areas (M) as a delimitation of the CA, which theoretically includes the species' dispersal ability and its barriers. We recommend using the BE method, which is simple to establish and highly operational.

Khlyap, L. A., A. A. Warshavsky, N. N. Dergunova, F. A. Osipov, and V. G. Petrosyan. 2023. The Most Dangerous Invasive Near-Water Mammals in Russia: Ensemble Models of Spatial Distribution. Russian Journal of Biological Invasions 14: 457–483. https://doi.org/10.1134/s2075111723030104

Abstract The potential ranges of three near-water (hereafter, semiaquatic) mammals included in the list of the 100 most dangerous invasive species of Russia (Сanadian beaver, muskrat, American mink) are presented. Maps of suitable habitats of species were created by ensemble modeling of spatial distribution of species (eSDM) on the basis of global species occurrence records in the native and invasive range and bioclimatic variables characterizing the current climate. An estimate of the effectiveness of constructing ensemble models in comparison with individual models (iSDM) is given. The results of analysis of consequences of invasions of semiaquatic mammals are presented and the features of control of number and limitation of their distribution in the future on the territory of Russia are considered. The patterns of formation of the invasive part of the range of alien semiaquatic mammals are summarized and suitable regions for their future invasions are predicted.

Viljoen, N., J. Weyer, J. Coertse, and W. Markotter. 2023. Evaluation of Taxonomic Characteristics of Matlo and Phala Bat Rabies-Related Lyssaviruses Identified in South Africa. Viruses 15: 2047. https://doi.org/10.3390/v15102047

We report the genetic characterization of two potentially novel rabies-related lyssaviruses identified from bats in Limpopo province, South Africa. Matlo bat lyssavirus (MBLV) was identified in two Miniopterus natalensis (Natal long-fingered) bats in 2015 and 2016, and Phala bat lyssavirus (PBLV) was identified in a Nycticeinops schlieffeni (Schlieffen’s) bat in 2021. The distribution of both of these bat species is largely confined to parts of Africa, with limited reports from the Arabian Peninsula. MBLV and PBLV were demonstrated to group with the unassigned and phylogroup I lyssaviruses, respectively. MBLV was most closely related to Lyssavirus caucasicus (WCBV), whereas PBLV was most closely related to Lyssavirus formosa (TWBLV-1) and Taiwan bat lyssavirus 2 (TWBLV-2), based on analysis of the N and G genes, the concatenated N + P + M + G + L coding sequence, and the complete genome sequence. Based on our analysis, MBLV and WCBV appeared to constitute a phylogroup separate from Lyssavirus lleida (LLEBV) and Lyssavirus ikoma (IKOV). Analysis of the antigenic sites suggests that PBLV will likely be serologically distinguishable from established lyssaviruses in virus-neutralization tests, whereas MBLV appeared to be antigenically highly similar to WCBV. Taken together, the findings suggested that, while PBLV is likely a new lyssavirus species, MBLV is likely related to WCBV.

Vázquez-Rueda, E., A. P. Cuervo-Robayo, and J. Ayala-Berdon. 2023. Forest dependency could be more important than dispersal capacity for habitat connectivity of four species of insectivorous bats inhabiting a highly anthropized region in central Mexico. Mammal Research. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13364-023-00707-0

The maintenance, restoration, and improvement of habitat structure are critical for biodiversity conservation. Under this context, studies assessing habitat connectivity become essential, especially those focused on anthropized regions holding high species richness. We calculated the habitat connectivity of four species of insectivorous bats with different dispersal capacity and habitat preferences in a highly anthropized region in central Mexico, Idionycteris phyllotis and Myotis thysanodes , with a high dispersal capacity and forest-dependency, and Eptesicus fuscus with a low dispersal capacity, and Tadarida brasiliensis with a high dispersal capacity, as the more tolerant bat species to anthropogenic disturbance. We developed niche-based species distribution models to identify suitable habitat patches for each species. We then assessed habitat connectivity and the importance of suitable habitat patches for maintaining connectivity using a graph theory approach. Our results showed that forest dependency was most important than dispersal capacity for connectivity. We also found that the Iztaccíhuatl-Popocatépetl mountain, a National Park comprising 4.2% of natural vegetation in the study area, was the most critical patch for maintaining connectivity for most of the study species. Our study demonstrates the importance of conserving the remnants of natural vegetation for maintaining habitat connectivity within a fragmented landscape and demonstrates the importance of conserving protected areas as well as other remnants of vegetation for the maintenance of habitat connectivity within a fragmented landscape.

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.

Fell, H. G., M. Jones, S. Atkinson, N. C. Stenseth, and A. C. Algar. 2023. The role of reservoir species in mediating plague’s dynamic response to climate. Royal Society Open Science 10. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.230021

The distribution and transmission of Yersinia pestis , the bacterial agent of plague, responds dynamically to climate, both within wildlife reservoirs and human populations. The exact mechanisms mediating plague's response to climate are still poorly understood, particularly across large environmentally heterogeneous regions encompassing several reservoir species. A heterogeneous response to precipitation was observed in plague intensity across northern and southern China during the Third Pandemic. This has been attributed to the response of reservoir species in each region. We use environmental niche modelling and hindcasting methods to test the response of a broad range of reservoir species to precipitation. We find little support for the hypothesis that the response of reservoir species to precipitation mediated the impact of precipitation on plague intensity. We instead observed that precipitation variables were of limited importance in defining species niches and rarely showed the expected response to precipitation across northern and southern China. These findings do not suggest that precipitation–reservoir species dynamics never influence plague intensity but that instead, the response of reservoir species to precipitation across a single biome cannot be assumed and that limited numbers of reservoir species may have a disproportional impact upon plague intensity.

Lorestani, N., M. Hemami, A. Rezvani, and M. Ahmadi. 2022. Ecological niche models reveal divergent habitat use of Pallas’s cat in the Eurasian cold steppes. Ecology and Evolution 12. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.9624

Identifying the association between the patterns of niche occupation and phylogenetic relationships among sister clades and assisting conservation planning implications are of the most important applications of species distribution models (SDMs). However, most studies have been carried out regardless of within taxon genetic differentiation and the potential of local adaptation occurring within the species level. The Pallas's cat (Otocolobus manul) is a less‐studied species with unknown biogeography and phylogenetic structure across a widespread yet isolated range from the Caucasus to eastern China. In the current study, by considering a previously proposed genetic structure and based on a cluster analysis on climatic variables, we supposed three clades for this species, including O. m. manul, O. m. ferrugineus, and O. m. nigripectus. We developed SDM for each clade separately and compared it with a general distribution model of the species to determine whether the hypothesized taxonomic resolution affects the predicted ecological niche of the within‐species structures. We assessed the effect of climate change on the future distribution of the species to detect the most sensitive clades to global warming scenarios. Our results showed that for all clades' models, the AUC and TSS were greater than the general model. Access to the preferred prey of the Pallas's cat, that is, pika, had a significant effect on the distribution of O. m. manul and O. m. ferrugineus, whereas the most influential variable affecting O. m. nigripectus habitat suitability was terrain slope. Based on our future projections, we found that future climate change likely threatens the clades O. m. ferrugineus and O. m. nigripectus more than O. m. manul, findings that were hidden in the general model. Our results highlight the proficiency of SDMs in recognizing within‐taxon habitat use of widespread species and the necessity of this procedure for implementing effective conservation planning of these species.