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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.

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.

McCulloch-Jones, E. J., T. Kraaij, N. Crouch, and K. T. Faulkner. 2023. Assessing the invasion risk of traded alien ferns using species distribution models. NeoBiota 87: 161–189. https://doi.org/10.3897/neobiota.87.101104

Risk analysis plays a crucial role in regulating and managing alien and invasive species but can be time-consuming and costly. Alternatively, combining invasion and impact history with species distribution models offers a cost-effective and time-efficient approach to assess invasion risk and identify species for which a comprehensive risk analysis should take precedence. We conducted such an assessment for six traded alien fern species, determining their invasion risk in countries where they are traded. Four of the species (Dicksonia antarctica, Dryopteris erythrosora, Lygodium japonicum, and Phlebodium aureum) showed limited global distributions, while Adiantum raddianum and Sphaeropteris cooperi had broader distributions. A. raddianum, however, was the only species found to pose a high invasion risk in two known trade countries – the USA and Australia – and requires a complete risk analysis to determine the appropriate regulatory responses. Dicksonia antarctica, Phlebodium aureum (for New Zealand), and Dryopteris erythrosora (for the USA) posed a medium risk of invasion due to the lack of evidence of impacts, and a complete risk analysis is thus deemed less crucial for these species in these countries. For other species, suitable environments were not predicted in the countries where they are traded, thus the risk of invasion is low, and a complete risk analysis is not required. For species in countries where suitable environments are predicted but no trade information or presence data are available, risk assessments are recommended to better determine the risk posed. Despite the relatively limited potential global distribution of the studied ferns relative to other major plant invaders (e.g., Pinus spp. and Acacia spp.), their history of invasion, documented impacts in pristine environments, and high propagule pressure from trade warrants concern, possibly necessitating legislative and regulatory measures in environmentally suitable regions.


As the long-term sustainability of both natural and artificial phytocenoses is under serious threat from biological invaders, the global community is working hard to prevent invasions and rapidly eradicate or halt the spread of invasive species. By tracking the actual spread of “invaders” or predicting areas at risk of invasion, geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing of the Earth (RSE) can significantly assist the process of ensuring biosecurity at the state level. Research has shown the potential of remote sensing and GIS applications for invasive species mapping and modeling, even though it is currently restricted to a small number of taxa. This article gives examples of how GIS and RSE can be used to track invasive species like Utricularia australis R. br. and Lemna aequinoctialis Welw. To describe the distribution of species, current Internet databases of species distribution and the author’s own research were used. It also talks about promising ways to find and track the spread of invasive species, like using NDVI indices, chlorophyll and xanthophyll content to find changes in regional biodiversity, some problems with finding changes in biodiversity in agricultural landscapes, and mapping invasion risk. The study also demonstrates how GIS technology may be used to identify agricultural landscape biodiversity using radiometric space data from Sentinel 1, followed by a verification of the findings. The prospects of spatial, spectral, and temporal analysis of images are determined, as they make it possible to outline the boundaries of ecosystems, biometric characteristics of species, characteristics of their current and potential areas of distribution, etc.

Jiménez-López, D. A., M. J. Carmona-Higuita, G. Mendieta-Leiva, R. Martínez-Camilo, A. Espejo-Serna, T. Krömer, N. Martínez-Meléndez, and N. Ramírez-Marcial. 2023. Linking different resources to recognize vascular epiphyte richness and distribution in a mountain system in southeastern Mexico. Flora: 152261. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.flora.2023.152261

Mesoamerican mountains are important centers of endemism and diversity of epiphytes. The Sierra Madre of Chiapas in southeastern Mexico is a mountainous region of great ecological interest due to its high biological richness. We present the first checklist of epiphytes for this region based on a compilation of various information sources. In addition, we determined the conservation status for each species based on the Mexican Official Standard (NOM-059-SEMARNAT-2010), endemism based on geopolitical boundaries, spatial completeness with inventory completeness index, richness distribution with range maps, and the relationship between climatic variables (temperature and rainfall) with species richness using generalized additive models. Our dataset includes 9,799 records collected between 1896-2017. Our checklist includes 708 epiphytes within 160 genera and 26 families; the most species-rich family was Orchidaceae (355 species), followed by Bromeliaceae (82) and Polypodiaceae (79). There were 74 species within a category of risk and 59 species considered endemic. Completeness of epiphyte richness suggests that sampling is still largely incomplete, particularly in the lower parts of the mountain system. Species and family range maps show the highest richness at high elevations, while geographically richness increases towards the southeast. Epiphyte richness increases with increased rainfall, although a unimodal pattern was observed along the temperature gradient with a species richness peak between 16-20 C°. The Sierra Madre of Chiapas forms a refuge to more than 40% of all epiphytes reported for Mexico and its existing network of protected areas overlaps with the greatest epiphyte richness.

Reichgelt, T., A. Baumgartner, R. Feng, and D. A. Willard. 2023. Poleward amplification, seasonal rainfall and forest heterogeneity in the Miocene of the eastern USA. Global and Planetary Change 222: 104073. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloplacha.2023.104073

Paleoclimate reconstructions can provide a window into the environmental conditions in Earth history when atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations were higher than today. In the eastern USA, paleoclimate reconstructions are sparse, because terrestrial sedimentary deposits are rare. Despite this, the eastern USA has the largest population and population density in North America, and understanding the effects of current and future climate change is of vital importance. Here, we provide terrestrial paleoclimate reconstructions of the eastern USA from Miocene fossil floras. Additionally, we compare proxy paleoclimate reconstructions from the warmest period in the Miocene, the Miocene Climatic Optimum (MCO), to those of an MCO Earth System Model. Reconstructed Miocene temperatures and precipitation north of 35°N are higher than modern. In contrast, south of 35°N, temperatures and precipitation are similar to today, suggesting a poleward amplification effect in eastern North America. Reconstructed Miocene rainfall seasonality was predominantly higher than modern, regardless of latitude, indicating greater variability in intra-annual moisture transport. Reconstructed climates are almost uniformly in the temperate seasonal forest biome, but heterogeneity of specific forest types is evident. Reconstructed Miocene terrestrial temperatures from the eastern USA are lower than modeled temperatures and coeval Atlantic sea surface temperatures. However, reconstructed rainfall is consistent with modeled rainfall. Our results show that during the Miocene, climate was most different from modern in the northeastern states, and may suggest a drastic reduction in the meridional temperature gradient along the North American east coast compared to today.

Ralimanana, H., A. L. Perrigo, R. J. Smith, J. S. Borrell, S. Faurby, M. T. Rajaonah, T. Randriamboavonjy, et al. 2022. Madagascar’s extraordinary biodiversity: Threats and opportunities. Science 378. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.adf1466

Madagascar’s unique biota is heavily affected by human activity and is under intense threat. Here, we review the current state of knowledge on the conservation status of Madagascar’s terrestrial and freshwater biodiversity by presenting data and analyses on documented and predicted species-level conservation statuses, the most prevalent and relevant threats, ex situ collections and programs, and the coverage and comprehensiveness of protected areas. The existing terrestrial protected area network in Madagascar covers 10.4% of its land area and includes at least part of the range of the majority of described native species of vertebrates with known distributions (97.1% of freshwater fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals combined) and plants (67.7%). The overall figures are higher for threatened species (97.7% of threatened vertebrates and 79.6% of threatened plants occurring within at least one protected area). International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List assessments and Bayesian neural network analyses for plants identify overexploitation of biological resources and unsustainable agriculture as the most prominent threats to biodiversity. We highlight five opportunities for action at multiple levels to ensure that conservation and ecological restoration objectives, programs, and activities take account of complex underlying and interacting factors and produce tangible benefits for the biodiversity and people of Madagascar.

Lannuzel, G., L. Pouget, D. Bruy, V. Hequet, S. Meyer, J. Munzinger, and G. Gâteblé. 2022. Mining rare Earth elements: Identifying the plant species most threatened by ore extraction in an insular hotspot. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 10. https://doi.org/10.3389/fevo.2022.952439

Conservation efforts in global biodiversity hotspots often face a common predicament: an urgent need for conservation action hampered by a significant lack of knowledge about that biodiversity. In recent decades, the computerisation of primary biodiversity data worldwide has provided the scientific community with raw material to increase our understanding of the shared natural heritage. These datasets, however, suffer from a lot of geographical and taxonomic inaccuracies. Automated tools developed to enhance their reliability have shown that detailed expert examination remains the best way to achieve robust and exhaustive datasets. In New Caledonia, one of the most important biodiversity hotspots worldwide, the plant diversity inventory is still underway, and most taxa awaiting formal description are narrow endemics, hence by definition hard to discern in the datasets. In the meantime, anthropogenic pressures, such as nickel-ore mining, are threatening the unique ultramafic ecosystems at an increasing rate. The conservation challenge is therefore a race against time, as the rarest species must be identified and protected before they vanish. In this study, based on all available datasets and resources, we applied a workflow capable of highlighting the lesser known taxa. The main challenges addressed were to aggregate all data available worldwide, and tackle the geographical and taxonomic biases, avoiding the data loss resulting from automated filtering. Every doubtful specimen went through a careful taxonomic analysis by a local and international taxonomist panel. Geolocation of the whole dataset was achieved through dataset cross-checking, local botanists’ field knowledge, and historical material examination. Field studies were also conducted to clarify the most unresolved taxa. With the help of this method and by analysing over 85,000 data, we were able to double the number of known narrow endemic taxa, elucidate 68 putative new species, and update our knowledge of the rarest species’ distributions so as to promote conservation measures.

Kinosian, S. P., and P. G. Wolf. 2022. The biology of C. richardii as a tool to understand plant evolution. eLife 11. https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.75019

The fern Ceratopteris richardii has been studied as a model organism for over 50 years because it is easy to grow and has a short life cycle. In particular, as the first homosporous vascular plant for which genomic resources were developed, C. richardii has been an important system for studying plant evolution. However, we know relatively little about the natural history of C. richardii. In this article, we summarize what is known about this aspect of C. richardii, and discuss how learning more about its natural history could greatly increase our understanding of the evolution of land plants.

Xue, T., S. R. Gadagkar, T. P. Albright, X. Yang, J. Li, C. Xia, J. Wu, and S. Yu. 2021. Prioritizing conservation of biodiversity in an alpine region: Distribution pattern and conservation status of seed plants in the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. Global Ecology and Conservation 32: e01885. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gecco.2021.e01885

The Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau (QTP) harbors abundant and diverse plant life owing to its high habitat heterogeneity. However, the distribution pattern of biodiversity hotspots and their conservation status remain unclear. Based on 148,283 high-resolution occurrence coordinates of 13,450 seed plants, w…