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Ramírez-Barahona, S. 2024. Incorporating fossils into the joint inference of phylogeny and biogeography of the tree fern order Cyatheales R. Warnock, and M. Zelditch [eds.],. Evolution. https://doi.org/10.1093/evolut/qpae034

Present-day geographic and phylogenetic patterns often reflect the geological and climatic history of the planet. Neontological distribution data are often sufficient to unravel a lineage’s biogeographic history, yet ancestral range inferences can be at odds with fossil evidence. Here, I use the fossilized birth–death process and the dispersal–extinction cladogenesis model to jointly infer the dated phylogeny and range evolution of the tree fern order Cyatheales. I use data for 101 fossil and 442 extant tree ferns to reconstruct the biogeographic history of the group over the last 220 million years. Fossil-aware reconstructions evince a prolonged occupancy of Laurasia over the Triassic–Cretaceous by Cyathealean tree ferns, which is evident in the fossil record but hidden from analyses relying on neontological data alone. Nonetheless, fossil-aware reconstructions are affected by uncertainty in fossils’ phylogenetic placement, taphonomic biases, and specimen sampling and are sensitive to interpretation of paleodistributions and how these are scored. The present results highlight the need and challenges of incorporating fossils into joint inferences of phylogeny and biogeography to improve the reliability of ancestral geographic range estimation.

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.

Mathur, M., and P. Mathur. 2024. Habitat suitability of Opuntia ficus-indica (L.) MILL. (CACTACEAE): a comparative temporal evaluation using diverse bio-climatic earth system models and ensemble machine learning approach. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 196. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10661-024-12406-7

A comprehensive evaluation of the habitat suitability across the India was conducted for the introduced species Opuntia ficus-indica . This assessment utilized a newly developed model called BioClimInd, takes into account five Earth System Models (ESMs). These ESMs consider two different emission scenarios known as Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP), specifically RCP 4.5 and RCP 8.5. Additionally, the assessment considered two future time frames: 2040–2079 (60) and 2060–2099 (80). Current study provided the threshold limit of different climatic variables in annual, quarter and monthly time slots like temperature annual range (26–30 °C), mean temperature of the driest quarter (25–28 °C); mean temperature of the coldest month (22–25 °C); minimum temperature of coldest month (13–17 °C); precipitation of the wettest month (250–500 mm); potential evapotranspiration Thronthwaite (1740–1800 mm). Predictive climatic habitat suitability posits that the introduction of this exotic species is deemed unsuitable in the Northern as well as the entirety of the cooler eastern areas of the country. The states of Rajasthan and Gujarat exhibit the highest degree of habitat suitability for this particular species. Niche hypervolumes and climatic variables affecting fundamental and realized niches were also assessed. This study proposes using multi-climatic exploration to evaluate habitats for introduced species to reduce modeling uncertainties.

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.

Ngarega, B. K., P. Chaibva, V. F. Masocha, J. K. Saina, P. K. Khine, and H. Schneider. 2023. Application of MaxEnt modeling to evaluate the climate change effects on the geographic distribution of Lippia javanica (Burm.f.) Spreng in Africa. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 196. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10661-023-12232-3

Lippia javanica is a typical indigenous plant species mostly found in the higher elevation or mountainous regions in southern, central, and eastern Africa. The ongoing utilization of the species for ethnobotanical applications and traditional uses, coupled with the changing climate, increases the risk of a potential reduction in its geographic distribution range in the region. Herein, we utilized the MaxEnt species distribution modelling to build the L. javanica distribution models in tropical and subtropical African regions for current and future climates. The MaxEnt models were calibrated and fitted using 286 occurrence records and six environmental variables. Temperatures, including temperature seasonality [Bio 4] and the maximum temperature of the warmest month [Bio 5], were observed to be the most significant determinants of L. javanica’s distribution. The current projected range for L. javanica was estimated to be 2,118,457 km 2 . Future model predictions indicated that L. javanica may increase its geographic distribution in western areas of the continent and regions around the equator; however, much of the geographic range in southern Africa may shift southwards, causing the species to lose portions of the northern limits of the habitat range. These current findings can help increase the conservation of L. javanica and other species and combat localized species loss induced by climate change and human pressure. We also emphasize the importance of more investigations and enhanced surveillance of traditionally used plant species in regions that are acutely susceptible to climate change.

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.

Jinga, P., A. Mureva, and T. Manyangadze. 2023. Mopane (Colophospermum mopane): A potential winner under climate change in southern Africa. Austral Ecology. https://doi.org/10.1111/aec.13426

Distribution and abundance under climate change of particularly non‐timber forest product tree species is vital since they sustain many livelihoods, especially in rural sub‐Saharan Africa. The aim of the study was to determine the current and future natural range of mopane (Colophospermum mopane (J. Kirk ex Benth.) J. Léonard, Fabaceae), a dominant tree species in mopane woodlands of southern Africa. An ensemble model was built in ‘biomod2’ from eight algorithms and used to estimate the current and future distribution. Seven bioclimatic variables and 269 occurrence records were used to calibrate individual models that were later combined into an ensemble model. The ensemble model was projected to two time periods, 2041–2060 and 2081–2100, under two shared socio‐economic pathways (SSPs), SSP2‐4.5 and SSP5‐8.5, and three general circulation models (GCMs). The ensemble model showed high performance (KAPPA = 0.770, ROC = 0.961, TSS = 0.792, ACCURACY = 0.900). A map of the current distribution shows occurrence predominantly in low‐lying areas, including the Zambezi, Save and Limpopo valleys, Okavango and Cuvelai basins, and in southern and central Mozambique. Projection maps show expansion under all SSPs, GCMs and time periods. Averaged across GCMs in 2041–2060, the range expanded by 22.37% under SSP2‐4.5, and by 19.94% under SSP5‐8.5. In 2081–2100, the range expanded by 20.43% under SSP2‐4.5, and by 27.62% under SSP5‐8.5. Notably, the range expansion was highest under SSP5‐8.5, an SSP that envisages unmitigated greenhouse gas release and the largest mean global temperature increase. It is highly likely that mopane is not directly threatened by climate change. Indirect climate change threats, however, remain uncertain.

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.

Akinlabi, F. M., M. D. Pirie, and A. A. Oskolski. 2023. Fire, frost, and drought constrain the structural diversity of wood within southern African Erica (Ericaceae). Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. https://doi.org/10.1093/botlinnean/boad033

Erica comprises ~860 species of evergreen shrubs and trees ranged from Europe to southern Africa and Madagascar. Wood structure of the around 20 European species is well studied, but despite its relevance to adaptation across the wider geographic range, it has not yet been explored across the much greater diversity, particularly of southern African lineages. In this study, we examine wood structure of 28 Erica species from southern Africa. In the African Erica clade, loss of scalariform perforation plates could be driven by increased aridity and seasonality in the mid-Miocene, and its re-gain can represent an adaptation to freezing in the high elevation species E. nubigena. As vessels in Erica are mostly solitary, imperforate tracheary elements probably form a subsidiary conduit network instead of vessel groups. Increase of ray frequency in habitats with a prominent dry and hot season probably facilitates refilling of vessels after embolism caused by water stress. Wider rays are ancestral for the lineage comprising African Erica and the Mediterranean E. australis. The negative correlation between ray width and expression of summer drought is consistent with Ojeda’s model explaining the diversification of seeders and resprouters among southern African Erica.