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Köhler, M., M. Romeiro‐Brito, and M. Telhe. 2024. The Cerrado through cacti. Journal of Biogeography. https://doi.org/10.1111/jbi.14846

Cerrado is a large and heterogeneous ecoregion in the Neotropics marked by the fire‐prone savanna vegetation, to which succulent lineages are usually not associated due to this adverse condition. However, recent studies have highlighted the importance of Cerrado as an ancestral range for the origin, dispersal and in situ diversification of remarkable lineages of South American cacti. In this perspective, we explore the implications of these occurrences in the Cerrado, shedding light on a frequently overlooked aspect of this ecoregion—the role of scattered rocky outcrop habitats acting as micro‐refuges for fire‐sensitive lineages. We show that most cacti occurrences are associated with patches of rock outcrops across the Cerrado. In contrast, when terricolous, a few disparate and not closely related species can develop underground structures or present a specialized habit that facilitates their presence as a putative response to fire—reinforcing the evolutionary lability of fire adaptation in Cerrado lineages. Despite some notable endemisms, several occurrences are from species with core distributions in adjacent ecoregions (e.g. Caatinga and Chaco), demonstrating the permeability of Cerrado, which can act concomitantly as a biogeographical barrier (especially due to its fire‐prone habitats) and as a corridor for biota interchange. Finally, we stress that Cerrado heterogeneity, often leading to different circumscriptions, is a relevant issue when studying and characterizing Neotropical biota, which must be further explored and considered to assess the evolutionary assembly of the biomes involved.

Dantas, V. L., L. C. S. Oliveira, C. R. Marcati, and J. Sonsin‐Oliveira. 2024. Coordination of bark and wood traits underlies forest‐to‐savanna evolutionary transitions. Journal of Biogeography. https://doi.org/10.1111/jbi.14850

Aim To test the hypothesis that adaptive shifts leading to the assembly of tropical savannas involved coordination between bark and wood traits and to understand the underlying mechanisms.LocationTropical South America.TaxonAngiosperms (woody).MethodsWe compiled data on three bark traits (total, inner and outer relative bark thickness), wood density, maximum height, five secondary xylem traits and on species' habitat information (light environment, climate, soil and fire history) for Neotropical savanna, forest and generalist species (biome groups). We tested for pairwise and multivariate associations among traits across species and if biome group and habitat conditions explained species positions along the resulting strategy axes.ResultsTraits covaried along four different axes. The first axis was consistent with a trade‐off between fire (thick barks) and shade tolerance (low bark to diameter ratio, high vessel density) and contributed to differentiate the three biome groups according to the preference for shaded environments. Forest species also differed from savanna and generalist species in a separate axis by being more resource acquisitive. Maximum height and wood density did not strongly trade‐off with bark thickness, although maximum height was negatively covaried with relative outer bark thickness. Preference for shaded conditions was the main driver of variation in the two principal strategy axes, but temperature, fire and soil sand content also explained differences in plant stature between savanna and generalist species.Main ConclusionsAllocation to bark is constrained by trade‐offs with wood, opposing shade‐tolerant and acquisitive forest species to fire‐resistant and conservative savanna species. Rather than a single strategy axis, three axes are necessary to understand the functional differences among savanna, forest and generalist species. Because two of these axes are controlled by light availability, the associated traits tend to covary in space and time, but not across species.

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.

Minghetti, E., P. M. Dellapé, M. Maestro, and S. I. Montemayor. 2024. Evaluating the climatic suitability of Engytatus passionarius Minghetti et al. (Heteroptera, Miridae) as a biological control agent of the invasive stinking passion flower Passiflora foetida L. in Australia through ecological niche models. Biological Control 191: 105461. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocontrol.2024.105461

Passiflora foetida is a climbing vine, native to the Neotropical Region that is causing major economic and ecological damage in Australia, where it is rapidly spreading. Traditional control options, such as cutting, manual uprooting, and herbicide applications are only effective for local management. Currently, the plant bug Engytatus passionarius is the most promising biological control agent. Specificity tests performed in its native range in Argentina suggest it is highly specific to the plant, and it has not been observed in the field associated with other plants. As climate determines the establishment of insects, knowing if the environmental conditions suit their requirements is key to introducing a species in a region. Also, an overlap between the climatic niches of species is an indicator of similar requirements. To explore the possibilities of a successful establishment of E. passionarius in Australia, ecological niche models (ENM) were built for the plant bug and for the vine and their overlap was measured. The ENM projected to Australia recognized suitable environmental conditions for the establishment of E. passionarius in several regions where P. foetida is present, both for current and future scenarios. Moreover, the niche of the plant bug is almost completely overlapped with that of the vine. All the aforementioned evidence seems to indicate that E. passionarius has a good chance to become an effective biological control agent of P. foetida.

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.

de Deus Vidal, J., C. B. Schmitt, and I. Koch. 2023. Comparative richness patterns of range sizes and life forms of Apocynaceae along forest–savanna transitions in Brazil. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. https://doi.org/10.1093/botlinnean/boad047

Brazilian moist forests and savannas are some of the most species-rich biomes in the Neotropics. In the transition zones between these regions, ecotones often accumulate even higher taxonomic diversity. However, whether these ecotonal communities consist of overlapping species widespread from the neighbouring biomes or a specific set of locally adapted species still needs to be clarified. Regional differences in species richness may be influenced by factors such as species' environmental tolerances, life forms, or species’ range sizes. To investigate the species richness found in ecotones, we used the ‘milk-weed’ family (Apocynaceae), which comprises both widespread and narrowly distributed trees, lianas, and shrubs, as a model to evaluate if (i) their observed richness in ecotones is promoted by widespread species or by locally adapted species; (ii) trees, lianas, and shrubs show different richness patterns in savannas, ecotones, and forests; and (iii) species found in ecotones have broader environmental tolerances than other species in the family. We used a taxonomically curated georeferenced dataset to compare the range sizes of 643 species of Apocynaceae from 73 genera listed for Brazil, comprising 298 species with a liana life form and 345 trees, herbs, or shrubs. We recorded 335 predominantly forest species, 56 savanna species, and 152 ecotone species, for which we quantified species richness, areas of occurrence, precipitation, and temperature ranges and tested for differences in range sizes and environmental tolerances between habits and ecoregions. Our results indicate that (i) Apocynaceae species occurring in ecotones have wider geographical ranges than species not occurring in ecotones; (ii) lianas showed higher area-weighted richness in ecotones than other life forms; and (iii) species found in ecotones had broader environmental tolerances than species restricted to moist forests or savannas. These results indicate that the species richness found in ecotones between savannas and moist forests in Brazil is not necessarily a consequence of higher endemism and local adaptation but may also be a result of overlapping ranges of widespread species typically associated with neighbouring biomes. Together, our findings add to our understanding of ecotones and biomes as continuous, gradual biogeographical transitions instead of sharply defined ecological units.

Calvente, A., A. P. Alves da Silva, D. Edler, F. A. Carvalho, M. R. Fantinati, A. Zizka, and A. Antonelli. 2023. Spiny but photogenic: amateur sightings complement herbarium specimens to reveal the bioregions of cacti. American Journal of Botany. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajb2.16235

Premise: Cacti are characteristic elements of the Neotropical flora and of major interest for biogeographic, evolutionary, and ecological studies. Here we test global biogeographic boundaries for Neotropical Cactaceae using specimen‐based occurrences coupled with data from visual observations, as a means to tackle the known collection biases in the family.MethodsSpecies richness and record density were assessed for preserved specimens and human observations and a bioregional scheme tailored to Cactaceae was produced using the interactive web application Infomap Bioregions based on data from 261,272 point records cleaned through automated and manual steps.Key ResultsWe find that areas in Mexico and southwestern USA, Eastern Brazil and along the Andean region have the greatest density of records and the highest species richness. Human observations complement information from preserved specimens substantially, especially along the Andes. We propose 24 cacti bioregions, among which the most species‐rich are: northern Mexico/southwestern USA, central Mexico, southern central Mexico, Central America, Mexican Pacific coast, central and southern Andes, northwestern Mexico/extreme southwestern USA, southwestern Bolivia, northeastern Brazil, Mexico/Baja California.ConclusionsThe bioregionalization proposed shows biogeographical boundaries specific to cacti, and can thereby aid further evolutionary, biogeographic, and ecological studies by providing a validated framework for further analyses. This classification builds upon, and is distinctive from, other expert‐derived regionalization schemes for other taxa. Our results showcase how observation data, including citizen‐science records, can complement traditional specimen‐based data for biogeographic research, particularly for taxa with specific specimen collection and preservation challenges and those that are threatened or internationally protected.This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

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.

Hill, A., M. F. T. Jiménez, N. Chazot, C. Cássia‐Silva, S. Faurby, L. Herrera‐Alsina, and C. D. Bacon. 2023. Apparent effect of range size and fruit colour on palm diversification may be spurious. Journal of Biogeography. https://doi.org/10.1111/jbi.14683

Aim Fruit selection by animal dispersers with different mobility directly impacts plant geographical range size, which, in turn, may impact plant diversification. Here, we examine the interaction between fruit colour, range size and diversification rate in palms by testing two hypotheses: (1) species with fruit colours attractive to birds have larger range sizes due to high dispersal ability and (2) disperser mobility affects whether small or large range size has higher diversification, and intermediate range size is expected to lead to the highest diversification rate regardless of disperser. Location Global. Time Period Contemporary (or present). Major Taxa Studied Palms (Arecaceae). Methods Palm species were grouped based on likely animal disperser group for given fruit colours. Range sizes were estimated by constructing alpha convex hull polygons from distribution data. We examined disperser group, range size or an interaction of both as possible drivers of change in diversification rate over time in a likelihood dynamic model (Several Examined State-dependent Speciation and Extinction [SecSSE]). Models were fitted, rate estimates were retrieved and likelihoods were compared to those of appropriate null models. Results Species with fruit colours associated with mammal dispersal had larger ranges than those with colours associated with bird dispersal. The best fitting SecSSE models indicated that the examined traits were not the primary driver of the heterogeneity in diversification rates in the model. Extinction rate complexity had a marked impact on model performance and on diversification rates. Main Conclusions Two traits related to dispersal mobility, range size and fruit colour, were not identified as the main drivers of diversification in palms. Increased model extinction rate complexity led to better performing models, which indicates that net diversification should be estimated rather than speciation alone. However, increased complexity may lead to incorrect SecSSE model conclusions without careful consideration. Finally, we find palms with more mobile dispersers do not have larger range sizes, meaning other factors are more important determinants of range size.