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Fell, H. G., M. Jones, S. Atkinson, N. C. Stenseth, and A. C. Algar. 2023. The role of reservoir species in mediating plague’s dynamic response to climate. Royal Society Open Science 10. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.230021

The distribution and transmission of Yersinia pestis , the bacterial agent of plague, responds dynamically to climate, both within wildlife reservoirs and human populations. The exact mechanisms mediating plague's response to climate are still poorly understood, particularly across large environmentally heterogeneous regions encompassing several reservoir species. A heterogeneous response to precipitation was observed in plague intensity across northern and southern China during the Third Pandemic. This has been attributed to the response of reservoir species in each region. We use environmental niche modelling and hindcasting methods to test the response of a broad range of reservoir species to precipitation. We find little support for the hypothesis that the response of reservoir species to precipitation mediated the impact of precipitation on plague intensity. We instead observed that precipitation variables were of limited importance in defining species niches and rarely showed the expected response to precipitation across northern and southern China. These findings do not suggest that precipitation–reservoir species dynamics never influence plague intensity but that instead, the response of reservoir species to precipitation across a single biome cannot be assumed and that limited numbers of reservoir species may have a disproportional impact upon plague intensity.

Dobson, R., A. J. Challinor, R. A. Cheke, S. Jennings, S. G. Willis, and M. Dallimer. 2023. dynamicSDM  : An R package for species geographical distribution and abundance modelling at high spatiotemporal resolution. Methods in Ecology and Evolution. https://doi.org/10.1111/2041-210x.14101

Species distribution models (SDM) are widely applied to understand changing species geographical distribution and abundance patterns. However, existing SDM tools are inherently static and inadequate for modelling species distributions that are driven by dynamic environmental conditions.dynamicSDM provides novel tools that explicitly consider the temporal dimension at key SDM stages, including functions for: (a) Cleaning and filtering species occurrence records by spatial and temporal qualities; (b) Generating pseudo‐absence records through space and time; (c) Extracting spatiotemporally buffered explanatory variables; (d) Fitting SDMs whilst accounting for temporal biases and autocorrelation and (e) Projecting intra‐ and inter‐ annual geographical distributions and abundances at high spatiotemporal resolution.Package functions have been designed to be: flexible for targeting specific study species; compatible with other SDM tools; and, by utilising Google Earth Engine and Google Drive, to have low computing power and storage needs. We illustrate dynamicSDM functions with an example of a nomadic bird in southern Africa, the red‐billed quelea Quelea quelea.As dynamicSDM functions are flexible and easily applied, we suggest that these tools could be readily applied to other taxa and systems globally.

Cosentino, F., E. C. J. Seamark, V. Van Cakenberghe, and L. Maiorano. 2023. Not only climate: The importance of biotic interactions in shaping species distributions at macro scales. Ecology and Evolution 13. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.9855

Abiotic factors are usually considered key drivers of species distribution at macro scales, while biotic interactions are mostly used at local scales. A few studies have explored the role of biotic interactions at macro scales, but all considered a limited number of species and obligate interactions. We examine the role of biotic interactions in large‐scale SDMs by testing two main hypotheses: (1) biotic factors in SDMs can have an important role at continental scale; (2) the inclusion of biotic factors in large‐scale SDMs is important also for generalist species. We used a maximum entropy algorithm to model the distribution of 177 bat species in Africa calibrating two SDMs for each species: one considering only abiotic variables (noBIO‐SDMs) and the other (BIO‐SDMs) including also biotic variables (trophic resource richness). We focused the interpretation of our results on variable importance and response curves. For each species, we also compared the potential distribution measuring the percentage of change between the two models in each pixel of the study area. All models gave AUC >0.7, with values on average higher in BIO‐SDMs compared to noBIO‐SDMs. Trophic resources showed an importance overall higher level than all abiotic predictors in most of the species (~68%), including generalist species. Response curves were highly interpretable in all models, confirming the ecological reliability of our models. Model comparison between the two models showed a change in potential distribution for more than 80% of the species, particularly in tropical forests and shrublands. Our results highlight the importance of considering biotic interactions in SDMs at macro scales. We demonstrated that a generic biotic proxy can be important for modeling species distribution when species‐specific data are not available, but we envision that a multi‐scale analysis combined with a better knowledge of the species might provide a better understanding of the role of biotic interactions.

Higino, G. T., F. Banville, G. Dansereau, N. R. Forero Muñoz, F. Windsor, and T. Poisot. 2023. Mismatch between IUCN range maps and species interactions data illustrated using the Serengeti food web. PeerJ 11: e14620. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.14620

Background Range maps are a useful tool to describe the spatial distribution of species. However, they need to be used with caution, as they essentially represent a rough approximation of a species’ suitable habitats. When stacked together, the resulting communities in each grid cell may not always be realistic, especially when species interactions are taken into account. Here we show the extent of the mismatch between range maps, provided by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and species interactions data. More precisely, we show that local networks built from those stacked range maps often yield unrealistic communities, where species of higher trophic levels are completely disconnected from primary producers. Methodology We used the well-described Serengeti food web of mammals and plants as our case study, and identify areas of data mismatch within predators’ range maps by taking into account food web structure. We then used occurrence data from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) to investigate where data is most lacking. Results We found that most predator ranges comprised large areas without any overlapping distribution of their prey. However, many of these areas contained GBIF occurrences of the predator. Conclusions Our results suggest that the mismatch between both data sources could be due either to the lack of information about ecological interactions or the geographical occurrence of prey. We finally discuss general guidelines to help identify defective data among distributions and interactions data, and we recommend this method as a valuable way to assess whether the occurrence data that are being used, even if incomplete, are ecologically accurate.

Ecke, F., B. A. Han, B. Hörnfeldt, H. Khalil, M. Magnusson, N. J. Singh, and R. S. Ostfeld. 2022. Population fluctuations and synanthropy explain transmission risk in rodent-borne zoonoses. Nature Communications 13. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-35273-7

Population fluctuations are widespread across the animal kingdom, especially in the order Rodentia, which includes many globally important reservoir species for zoonotic pathogens. The implications of these fluctuations for zoonotic spillover remain poorly understood. Here, we report a global empirical analysis of data describing the linkages between habitat use, population fluctuations and zoonotic reservoir status in rodents. Our quantitative synthesis is based on data collated from papers and databases. We show that the magnitude of population fluctuations combined with species’ synanthropy and degree of human exploitation together distinguish most rodent reservoirs at a global scale, a result that was consistent across all pathogen types and pathogen transmission modes. Our spatial analyses identified hotspots of high transmission risk, including regions where reservoir species dominate the rodent community. Beyond rodents, these generalities inform our understanding of how natural and anthropogenic factors interact to increase the risk of zoonotic spillover in a rapidly changing world. Many rodent species are known as hosts of zoonotic pathogens, but the ecological conditions that trigger spillover are not well-understood. Here, the authors show that population fluctuations and association with human-dominated habitats explain the zoonotic reservoir status of rodents globally.

Moreno, I., J. M. W. Gippet, L. Fumagalli, and P. J. Stephenson. 2022. Factors affecting the availability of data on East African wildlife: the monitoring needs of conservationists are not being met. Biodiversity and Conservation. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-022-02497-4

Understanding the status and abundance of species is essential for effective conservation decision-making. However, the availability of species data varies across space, taxonomic groups and data types. A case study was therefore conducted in a high biodiversity region—East Africa—to evaluate data biases, the factors influencing data availability, and the consequences for conservation. In each of the eleven target countries, priority animal species were identified as threatened species that are protected by national governments, international conventions or conservation NGOs. We assessed data gaps and biases in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility and the Living Planet Index. A survey of practitioners and decision makers was conducted to confirm and assess consequences of these biases on biodiversity conservation efforts. Our results showed data on species occurrence and population trends were available for a significantly higher proportion of vertebrates than invertebrates. We observed a geographical bias, with higher tourism income countries having more priority species and more species with data than lower tourism income countries. Conservationists surveyed felt that, of the 40 types of data investigated, those data that are most important to conservation projects are the most difficult to access. The main challenges to data accessibility are excessive expense, technological challenges, and a lack of resources to process and analyse data. With this information, practitioners and decision makers can prioritise how and where to fill gaps to improve data availability and use, and ensure biodiversity monitoring is improved and conservation impacts enhanced.

Inman, R. D., T. C. Esque, and K. E. Nussear. 2022. Dispersal limitations increase vulnerability under climate change for reptiles and amphibians in the southwestern United States. The Journal of Wildlife Management. https://doi.org/10.1002/jwmg.22317

Species conservation plans frequently rely on information that spans political and administrative boundaries, especially when predictions are needed of future habitat under climate change; however, most species conservation plans and their requisite predictions of future habitat are often limited in geographical scope. Moreover, dispersal constraints for species of concern are not often incorporated into distribution models, which can result in overly optimistic predictions of future habitat. We used a standard modeling approach across a suite of 23 taxa of amphibians and reptiles in the North American deserts (560,024 km2 across 13 ecoregions) to assess impacts of climate change on habitat and combined landscape population dispersal simulations with species distribution modeling to reduce the risk of predicting future habitat in areas that are not available to species given their dispersal abilities. We used 3 general circulation models and 2 representative concentration pathways (RCPs) to represent multiple scenarios of future habitat potential and assess which study species may be most vulnerable to changes forecasted under each climate scenario. Amphibians were the most vulnerable taxa, but the most vulnerable species tended to be those with the lowest dispersal ability rather than those with the most specialized niches. Under the most optimistic climate scenario considered (RCP 2.6; a stringent scenario requiring declining emissions from 2020 to near zero emissions by 2100), 76% of the study area may experience a loss of >20% of the species examined, while up to 87% of the species currently present may be lost in some areas under the most pessimistic climate scenario (RCP 8.5; a scenario wherein greenhouse gases continue to increase through 2100 based on trajectories from the mid‐century). Most areas with high losses were concentrated in the Arizona and New Mexico Plateau ecoregion, the Edwards Plateau in Texas, and the Southwestern Tablelands in New Mexico and Texas, USA. Under the most pessimistic climate scenario, all species are predicted to lose some existing habitat, with an average of 34% loss of extant habitat across all species. Even under the most optimistic scenario, we detected an average loss of 24% of extant habitat across all species, suggesting that changing climates may influence the ranges of reptiles and amphibians in the Southwest.

Oliveira-Dalland, L. G., L. R. V. Alencar, L. R. Tambosi, P. A. Carrasco, R. M. Rautsaw, J. Sigala-Rodriguez, G. Scrocchi, and M. Martins. 2022. Conservation gaps for Neotropical vipers: Mismatches between protected areas, species richness and evolutionary distinctiveness. Biological Conservation 275: 109750. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2022.109750

The continuous decline in biodiversity despite global efforts to create new protected areas calls into question the effectiveness of these areas in conserving biodiversity. Numerous habitats are absent from the global protected area network, and certain taxonomic groups are not being included in conservation planning. Here, we analyzed the level of protection that the current protected area system provides to viper species in the Neotropical region through a conservation gap analysis. We used distribution size and degree of threat to set species-specific conservation goals for 123 viper species in the form of minimum percentage of their distribution that should be covered by protected areas, and assessed the level of protection provided for each species by overlapping their distribution with protected areas of strict protection. Furthermore, using species richness and evolutionary distinctiveness as priority indicators, we conducted a spatial association analysis to detect areas of special concern. We found that most viper species have <1/4 of their distribution covered by protected areas, including 22 threatened species. Also, the large majority of cells containing high levels of species richness were significantly absent from protected areas, while evolutionary distinctiveness was particularly unprotected in regions with relatively low species richness, like northern Mexico and the Argentinian dry Chaco. Our results provide further evidence that vipers are largely being excluded from conservation planning, leaving them exposed to serious threats that can lead to population decline and ultimately extinction.

Martin, J. T., I. R. Fischhoff, A. A. Castellanos, and B. A. Han. 2022. Ecological Predictors of Zoonotic Vector Status Among Dermacentor Ticks (Acari: Ixodidae): A Trait-Based Approach H. Gaff [ed.],. Journal of Medical Entomology. https://doi.org/10.1093/jme/tjac125

Abstract Increasing incidence of tick-borne human diseases and geographic range expansion of tick vectors elevates the importance of research on characteristics of tick species that transmit pathogens. Despite their global distribution and role as vectors of pathogens such as Rickettsia spp., ticks in the genus Dermacentor Koch, 1844 (Acari: Ixodidae) have recently received less attention than ticks in the genus Ixodes Latreille, 1795 (Acari: Ixodidae). To address this knowledge gap, we compiled an extensive database of Dermacentor tick traits, including morphological characteristics, host range, and geographic distribution. Zoonotic vector status was determined by compiling information about zoonotic pathogens found in Dermacentor species derived from primary literature and data repositories. We trained a machine learning algorithm on this data set to assess which traits were the most important predictors of zoonotic vector status. Our model successfully classified vector species with ~84% accuracy (mean AUC) and identified two additional Dermacentor species as potential zoonotic vectors. Our results suggest that Dermacentor species that are most likely to be zoonotic vectors are broad ranging, both in terms of the range of hosts they infest and the range of ecoregions across which they are found, and also tend to have large hypostomes and be small-bodied as immature ticks. Beyond the patterns we observed, high spatial and species-level resolution of this new, synthetic dataset has the potential to support future analyses of public health relevance, including species distribution modeling and predictive analytics, to draw attention to emerging or newly identified Dermacentor species that warrant closer monitoring for zoonotic pathogens.

Monroy-Gamboa, A. G. 2022. Differences between Northern and Southern Female Coyotes. Western North American Naturalist 82. https://doi.org/10.3398/064.082.0119

The coyote (Canis latrans) has a wide distribution range, spanning boreal forests from the north of the continent to tropical environments in Central America, showing great adaptation and plasticity. Bergmann's rule states that individuals inhabiting colder climates are larger than those in warmer climates. It is suggested that in carnivore species, litter size is influenced by allometric constraints such as maternal body size. The aim of this study is to analyze the relations using correlation between female coyote mass, latitude, and litter size. Using data compiled from the literature, I carried out statistical analyses to correlate female body size, litter size, and latitude for coyotes across their distribution range. The results indicated a soft significant correlation between female body size and latitude, confirming Bergmann's rule. However, no significant correlation was found between litter size and latitude or between litter size and female body size; litter size in coyotes remains roughly uniform across their distribution range.