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Bürger, M., and J. Chory. 2024. A potential role of heat‐moisture couplings in the range expansion of Striga asiatica. Ecology and Evolution 14. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.11332

Parasitic weeds in the genera Orobanche, Phelipanche (broomrapes) and Striga (witchweeds) have a devastating impact on food security across much of Africa, Asia and the Mediterranean Basin. Yet, how climatic factors might affect the range expansion of these weeds in the context of global environmental change remains unexplored. We examined satellite‐based environmental variables such as surface temperature, root zone soil moisture, and elevation, in relation to parasitic weed distribution and environmental conditions over time, in combination with observational data from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). Our analysis reveals contrasting environmental and altitude preferences in the genera Striga and Orobanche. Asiatic witchweed (Striga asiatica), which infests corn, rice, sorghum, and sugar cane crops, appears to be expanding its range in high elevation habitats. It also shows a significant association with heat‐moisture coupling events, the frequency of which is rising in such environments. These results point to geographical shifts in distribution and abundance in parasitic weeds due to climate change.

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.

Karimi, N., and M. M. Hanes. 2024. Patterns of Grewia (Malvaceae) diversity across geographic scales in Africa and Madagascar. Annals of Botany. https://doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcae009

Background and aims Quantifying spatial species richness is useful to describe biodiversity patterns across broad geographic areas, especially in large, poorly known plant groups. We explore patterns and predictors of species richness across Africa in one such group; the paleotropical genus Grewia L. (Malvaceae). Methods Grewia species richness was quantified by extracting herbarium records from GBIF and Tropicos and creating geographic grids at varying spatial scales. We assessed predictors of species richness using spatial regression models with 30 environmental variables. We explored species co-occurrence in Madagascar at finer resolutions using Schoener's index, and compared species’ range sizes and IUCN status among ecoregions. Lastly, we derived a trait matrix for a subset of species found in Madagascar to characterize morphological diversity across space. Key Results Grewia species occur in 50 countries in Africa, with the highest number of species in Madagascar (93, with 80 species endemic). Species richness is highest in Madagascar, with up to 23 Grewia species in a grid cell, followed by coastal Tanzania/Kenya (up to 13 species), and northern South Africa and central Angola (11 species each). Across Africa, higher species richness was predicted by variables related to aridity. In Madagascar, a greater range in environmental variables best predicted species richness, consistent with geographic grid cells of highest species richness occurring near biome/ecoregion transitions. In Madagascar we also observe increasing dissimilarity in species composition with increasing geographic distance. Conclusions The spatial patterns and underlying environmental predictors that we uncover in Grewia represent an important step in our understanding of plant distribution and diversity patterns across Africa. Madagascar boasts nearly twice the Grewia species richness, compared to the second most species-rich country in Africa, which might be explained by complex topography and environmental conditions across small spatial scales.

Zhang, H., W. Guo, and W. Wang. 2023. The dimensionality reductions of environmental variables have a significant effect on the performance of species distribution models. Ecology and Evolution 13. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.10747

How to effectively obtain species‐related low‐dimensional data from massive environmental variables has become an urgent problem for species distribution models (SDMs). In this study, we will explore whether dimensionality reduction on environmental variables can improve the predictive performance of SDMs. We first used two linear (i.e., principal component analysis (PCA) and independent components analysis) and two nonlinear (i.e., kernel principal component analysis (KPCA) and uniform manifold approximation and projection) dimensionality reduction techniques (DRTs) to reduce the dimensionality of high‐dimensional environmental data. Then, we established five SDMs based on the environmental variables of dimensionality reduction for 23 real plant species and nine virtual species, and compared the predictive performance of those with the SDMs based on the selected environmental variables through Pearson's correlation coefficient (PCC). In addition, we studied the effects of DRTs, model complexity, and sample size on the predictive performance of SDMs. The predictive performance of SDMs under DRTs other than KPCA is better than using PCC. And the predictive performance of SDMs using linear DRTs is better than using nonlinear DRTs. In addition, using DRTs to deal with environmental variables has no less impact on the predictive performance of SDMs than model complexity and sample size. When the model complexity is at the complex level, PCA can improve the predictive performance of SDMs the most by 2.55% compared with PCC. At the middle level of sample size, the PCA improved the predictive performance of SDMs by 2.68% compared with the PCC. Our study demonstrates that DRTs have a significant effect on the predictive performance of SDMs. Specifically, linear DRTs, especially PCA, are more effective at improving model predictive performance under relatively complex model complexity or large sample sizes.

Rodríguez-Merino, A. 2023. Identifying and Managing Areas under Threat in the Iberian Peninsula: An Invasion Risk Atlas for Non-Native Aquatic Plant Species as a Potential Tool. Plants 12: 3069. https://doi.org/10.3390/plants12173069

Predicting the likelihood that non-native species will be introduced into new areas remains one of conservation’s greatest challenges and, consequently, it is necessary to adopt adequate management measures to mitigate the effects of future biological invasions. At present, not much information is available on the areas in which non-native aquatic plant species could establish themselves in the Iberian Peninsula. Species distribution models were used to predict the potential invasion risk of (1) non-native aquatic plant species already established in the peninsula (32 species) and (2) those with the potential to invade the peninsula (40 species). The results revealed that the Iberian Peninsula contains a number of areas capable of hosting non-native aquatic plant species. Areas under anthropogenic pressure are at the greatest risk of invasion, and the variable most related to invasion risk is temperature. The results of this work were used to create the Invasion Risk Atlas for Alien Aquatic Plants in the Iberian Peninsula, a novel online resource that provides information about the potential distribution of non-native aquatic plant species. The atlas and this article are intended to serve as reference tools for the development of public policies, management regimes, and control strategies aimed at the prevention, mitigation, and eradication of non-native aquatic plant species.

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.

Gachambi Mwangi, J., J. Haggar, S. Mohammed, T. Santika, and K. Mustapha Umar. 2023. The ecology, distribution, and anthropogenic threats of multipurpose hemi-parasitic plant Osyris lanceolata. Journal for Nature Conservation 76: 126478. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnc.2023.126478

Osyris lanceolata Hochst. & Steud. ex A. DC. is a multipurpose plant with high socioeconomic and cultural values. It is endangered in the biogeographical region of eastern Africa, but of less concern in other regions where it occurs. The few natural populations remaining in the endangered sites continue to encounter many threats, and this has raised concerns about its long-term sustainability. Yet, existing knowledge about the ecology and distribution of the plant is scarce to inform strategies for the conservation and sustainable management of the species. In this study, we conducted a scoping review of the available literature on current knowledge about the plant. We recapitulated existing knowledge about the abiotic and biotic factors influencing the contemporary distribution of the plant, the anthropogenic threats, and existing conservation efforts. Based on the limited studies we reviewed, we identified that the plant prefers specific habitats (hilly areas and rocky outcrops), frequently parasitizes Fabaceae but can parasitize plants from a wide range of countries, have inadequate ex-situ propagation protocols which present issues for the survival of the species. Overharvesting from the wild driven by demand from regional and global markets poses further threats to the existing natural populations, especially in eastern Africa. A combination of ecological, social, and trade-related conservation measures can be envisioned to help improve the plant’s persistence. These include, but are not limited to, a better understanding of the species ecology to inform conservation planning, monitoring of trade flow and improve transnational environmental laws and cooperation among countries to prevent species smuggling.

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.

Cousins-Westerberg, R., N. Dakin, L. Schat, G. Kadereit, and A. M. Humphreys. 2023. Evolution of cold tolerance in the highly stress-tolerant samphires and relatives (Salicornieae: Amaranthaceae). Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. https://doi.org/10.1093/botlinnean/boad009

Low temperature constitutes one of the main barriers to plant distributions, confining many clades to their ancestrally tropical biome. However, recent evidence suggests that transitions from tropical to temperate biomes may be more frequent than previously thought. Here, we study the evolution of cold and frost tolerance in the globally distributed and highly stress-tolerant Salicornieae (Salicornioideae, Amaranthaceae s.l.). We first generate a phylogenetic tree comprising almost all known species (85-90%), using newly generated (n = 106) and published nuclear-ribosomal and plastid sequences. Next, we use geographical occurrence data to document in which clades and geographical regions cold-tolerant species occur and reconstruct how cold tolerance evolved. Finally, we test for correlated evolution between frost tolerance and the annual life form. We find that frost tolerance has evolved independently in up to four Northern Hemisphere lineages but that annuals are no more likely to evolve frost tolerance than perennials, indicating the presence of different strategies for adapting to cold environments. Our findings add to mounting evidence for multiple independent out-of-the-tropics transitions among close relatives of flowering plants and raise new questions about the ecological and physiological mechanism(s) of adaptation to low temperatures in Salicornieae.