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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.

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.

Chan, P. T., J. Arroyo‐Cabrales, D. A. Prieto‐Torres, and L. A. Sánchez‐González. 2024. The role of ecological niche conservatism in the evolution of bird distributional patterns in Mesoamerican seasonally dry forests. Journal of Biogeography. https://doi.org/10.1111/jbi.14820

AbstractAimDue to its complex biogeographical and ecological history, the seasonally dry forests (SDF) of Mesoamerica are considered a biodiversity hotspot. SDF are currently distributed in relatively large and continuous, but isolated areas, in which there are both high total and endemic species numbers. Among birds, few species are shared across SDF patches; other species are endemic to one of these; and for two species currently endemic to one patch, fossils have been recovered in a different one, suggesting a former widespread distribution in so species, implying that current distributional patterns are probably recent.LocationMesoamerican seasonally dry forests.MethodsWe assessed the role of niche divergence/conservatism in the evolution of bird distributional patterns. Using an ecological niche modelling approach, we estimated palaeodistributions for two species currently endemic to the SDF of Yucatan Peninsula (YP), two to the Mesoamerican Pacific Slope (MPS) with fossil record in the YP and two more showing an allopatric pattern. For comparison, we simulated virtual species (VS) matching each pattern, assuming they represent the expected distribution of species in each SDF patch. To test hypothesis of niche conservatism, we assessed the niche equivalence/similarity between the patches represented by the VS, and in each bird species and its VS distributional counterpart.ResultsOur results showed three patterns: (i) no past geographical connectiveness among suitable areas; (ii) niche conservatism, but not equivalence, despite low niche overlap and geographical distance; and (iii) potential niche divergence.Main ConclusionsFor birds currently endemic to the MPS, our results suggest that the absence from the YP may be attributed to the loss of their environmental niche. Widespread species showed either niche conservatism or divergence. YP endemics showed niche divergence. Our results underline the role of niche divergence/conservatism in the evolution of distributional patterns in Mesoamerican SDF avifauna.

Ortiz-Acosta, M. Á., J. Galindo-González, A. A. Castro-Luna, and C. Mota-Vargas. 2023. Potential distribution of marsupials (Didelphimorphia: Didelphidae) in Mexico under 2 climate change scenarios M. Vieira [ed.],. Journal of Mammalogy. https://doi.org/10.1093/jmammal/gyad101

Climate change is one of the main threats to biodiversity in the 21st century. However, the effects that it may have on different mammal species are unknown, making it difficult to implement conservation strategies. In this paper, we used species distribution models (SDM) to assess the effect of global climate change on the potential distribution of the 8 of the 9 marsupial species in Mexico, and analyzed their distribution in the current system of natural protected areas (NPAs). We used presence records for each species and bioclimatic variables from the present and the future (2050 and 2080) with 2 contrasting possible scenarios (representative concentration pathways RCP 4.5 and 8.5). We found that Tlacuatzin canescens would have the most stable potential range under any climate change scenario, while the remaining species (Caluromys derbianus, Chironectes minimus, Didelphis marsupialis, D. virginiana, Philander opossum, Marmosa mexicana, and Metachirus nudicaudatus) would undergo notable range losses in the future, though there would not only be losses—according to our SDMs, for all species there would be some range gain under the different climate scenarios, assuming the vegetation cover remained. The current system of NPAs in Mexico currently protects and under the 2 future scenarios would protect less than 20% of the potential range of marsupials, so a reevaluation of their areas beyond the NPAs is highly recommended for the long-term conservation of this group. Our results provide relevant information on the estimated effects of global climate change on marsupials, allowing us to design more effective methodologies for the protection of this portion of the mammalian fauna in Mexico.

Maya-Alvarado, B., R. Granja-Fernández, A. López-Pérez, and F. A. Rodríguez-Zaragoza. 2023. Diversity patterns of echinoids (Echinodermata: Echinoidea) in shallow waters of the Mexican Pacific. Regional Studies in Marine Science 68: 103246. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rsma.2023.103246

The Mexican Pacific hosts a large diversity of echinoids occupying different habitats and ecological niches; nevertheless, the group remains scarcely studied in terms of their spatial patterns of biodiversity and variation in the region. This work evaluated the alpha, beta, and gamma diversity of echinoids living in the Mexican Pacific's shallow waters (0–200 m) at three spatial scales: Operational geographic units (OGUs), ecoregions, and provinces. Alpha diversity was evaluated through the standardized coverage values of 0 D, 1 D, and 2 D, while the contribution of alpha and beta diversity components to gamma diversity was estimated with additive partitioning. Finally, we evaluated whether beta diversity resulted from overlap, species replacement, or richness differences. A total of 45 species and 2,232 incidences were registered in the 150 OGUs distributed throughout the Mexican Pacific. Cluster completeness in the ecoregions of the Warm Temperate Northeast Pacific (WTNP) province was higher (> 95 %) than in the ecoregions of the Eastern Tropical Pacific (TEaP) province. Standardized coverage values of the 0 D, 1 D, and 2 D indices showed differences between the ecoregions Cortezian and Magdalena Transition in the WTNP province. At the ecoregion and province level, alpha diversity might be influenced by sampling techniques and habitat availability, which limits the distribution of regular and irregular echinoids. Gamma diversity is mainly determined by beta diversity at the ecoregion scale, where species overlap and richness differences were the major contributing components, probably resulting from substrate dependence, habitat availability, and mesoscale ocean circulation patterns.

Leão, C. F., M. S. Lima Ribeiro, K. Moraes, G. S. R. Gonçalves, and M. G. M. Lima. 2023. Climate change and carnivores: shifts in the distribution and effectiveness of protected areas in the Amazon. PeerJ 11: e15887. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.15887

Background Carnivore mammals are animals vulnerable to human interference, such as climate change and deforestation. Their distribution and persistence are affected by such impacts, mainly in tropical regions such as the Amazon. Due to the importance of carnivores in the maintenance and functioning of the ecosystem, they are extremely important animals for conservation. We evaluated the impact of climate change on the geographic distribution of carnivores in the Amazon using Species Distribution Models (SDMs). Do we seek to answer the following questions: (1) What is the effect of climate change on the distribution of carnivores in the Amazon? (2) Will carnivore species lose or gain representation within the Protected Areas (PAs) of the Amazon in the future? Methods We evaluated the distribution area of 16 species of carnivores mammals in the Amazon, based on two future climate scenarios (RCP 4.5 and RCP 8.5) for the year 2070. For the construction of the SDMs we used bioclimatic and vegetation cover variables (land type). Based on these models, we calculated the area loss and climate suitability of the species, as well as the effectiveness of the protected areas inserted in the Amazon. We estimated the effectiveness of PAs on the individual persistence of carnivores in the future, for this, we used the SDMs to perform the gap analysis. Finally, we analyze the effectiveness of PAs in protecting taxonomic richness in future scenarios. Results The SDMs showed satisfactory predictive performance, with Jaccard values above 0.85 and AUC above 0.91 for all species. In the present and for the future climate scenarios, we observe a reduction of potencial distribution in both future scenarios (RCP4.5 and RCP8.5), where five species will be negatively affected by climate change in the RCP 4.5 future scenario and eight in the RCP 8.5 scenario. The remaining species stay stable in terms of total area. All species in the study showed a loss of climatic suitability. Some species lost almost all climatic suitability in the RCP 8.5 scenario. According to the GAP analysis, all species are protected within the PAs both in the current scenario and in both future climate scenarios. From the null models, we found that in all climate scenarios, the PAs are not efficient in protecting species richness.

Montana, K. O., V. Ramírez-Castañeda, and R. D. Tarvin. 2023. Are Pacific Chorus Frogs (Pseudacris regilla) Resistant to Tetrodotoxin (TTX)? Characterizing Potential TTX Exposure and Resistance in an Ecological Associate of Pacific Newts (Taricha). Journal of Herpetology 57. https://doi.org/10.1670/22-002

Animals that frequently encounter toxins often develop mechanisms of toxin resistance over evolutionary time. Both predators that consume toxic prey and organisms in physical contact with a toxin in their environment may experience natural selection for resistance. Based on observations that Pacific Chorus Frogs (Pseudacris regilla) sometimes eat and mistakenly amplect tetrodotoxin (TTX)-defended Taricha newts, we predicted that P. regilla may possess TTX resistance. We compared amino acid sequences of domain IV of the muscle voltage-gated sodium channel gene SCN4A (NaV1.4) in populations of P. regilla that are sympatric and allopatric with Taricha. We identified a single substitution in NaV1.4 of P. regilla at a conserved site in the pore loop where TTX binds. Although the role of this site in TTX resistance has not been functionally assessed, both allopatric and sympatric P. regilla had this substitution, along with several other reptiles and amphibians, suggesting that it may be unrelated to TTX exposure from Taricha. Thus, there is no conclusive evidence that P. regilla possesses TTX resistance encoded by amino acid substitutions in this domain. California occurrence data from the last 50 yr indicate that Taricha activity peaks in January while the activity of P. regilla peaks in April, with times where the species may come into contact. However, P. regilla may not be exposed to levels of TTX from Taricha high enough to select for mutations in NaV1.4. Other unidentified mechanisms of TTX resistance could be present in P. regilla and other species sympatric with toxic newts.

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.

Quillfeldt, P., Y. Bedolla-Guzmán, M. M. Libertelli, Y. Cherel, M. Massaro, and P. Bustamante. 2023. Mercury in Ten Storm-Petrel Populations from the Antarctic to the Subtropics. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00244-023-01011-3

The oceans become increasingly contaminated as a result of global industrial production and consumer behaviour, and this affects wildlife in areas far removed from sources of pollution. Migratory seabirds such as storm-petrels may forage in areas with different contaminant levels throughout the annual cycle and may show a carry-over of mercury from the winter quarters to the breeding sites. In this study, we compared mercury levels among seven species of storm-petrels breeding on the Antarctic South Shetlands and subantarctic Kerguelen Islands, in temperate waters of the Chatham Islands, New Zealand, and in temperate waters of the Pacific off Mexico. We tested for differences in the level of contamination associated with breeding and inter-breeding distribution and trophic position. We collected inert body feathers and metabolically active blood samples in ten colonies, reflecting long-term (feathers) and short-term (blood) exposures during different periods ranging from early non-breeding (moult) to late breeding. Feathers represent mercury accumulated over the annual cycle between two successive moults. Mercury concentrations in feathers ranged over more than an order of magnitude among species, being lowest in subantarctic Grey-backed Storm-petrels (0.5 μg g −1 dw) and highest in subtropical Leach’s Storm-petrels (7.6 μg g −1 dw, i.e. posing a moderate toxicological risk). Among Antarctic Storm-petrels, Black-bellied Storm-petrels had threefold higher values than Wilson’s Storm-petrels, and in both species, birds from the South Shetlands (Antarctica) had threefold higher values than birds from Kerguelen (subantarctic Indian Ocean). Blood represents mercury taken up over several weeks, and showed similar trends, being lowest in Grey-backed Storm-petrels from Kerguelen (0.5 μg g −1 dw) and highest in Leach’s Storm-petrels (3.6 μg g −1 dw). Among Antarctic storm-petrels, species differences in the blood samples were similar to those in feathers, but site differences were less consistent. Over the breeding season, mercury decreased in blood samples of Antarctic Wilson’s Storm-petrels, but did not change in Wilson’s Storm-petrels from Kerguelen or in Antarctic Black-bellied Storm-petrels. In summary, we found that mercury concentrations in storm-petrels varied due to the distribution of species and differences in prey choice. Depending on prey choices, Antarctic storm-petrels can have similar mercury concentrations as temperate species. The lowest contamination was observed in subantarctic species and populations. The study shows how seabirds, which accumulate dietary pollutants in their tissues in the breeding and non-breeding seasons, can be used to survey marine pollution. Storm-petrels with their wide distributions and relatively low trophic levels may be especially useful, but more detailed knowledge on their prey choice and distributions is needed.