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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.

Heo, N., D. J. Leopold, M. V. Lomolino, S. Yun, and D. D. Fernando. 2022. Global and regional drivers of abundance patterns in the hart’s tongue fern complex (Aspleniaceae). Annals of Botany. https://doi.org/10.1093/aob/mcac129

Abstract Background and Aims The hart’s tongue fern (HTF) complex is a monophyletic group composed of five geographically segregated members with divergent abundance patterns across its broad geographic range. We postulated hierarchical systems of environmental controls in which climatic and land-use change drive abundance patterns at the global scale, while various ecological conditions function as finer-scale determinants that further increase geographic disparities at regional to local scales. Methods After quantifying the abundance patterns of the HTF complex, we estimated their correlations with global climate and land-use dynamics. Regional determinants were assessed using boosted regression tree models with 18 potential ecological variables. Moreover, we investigated long-term population trends in the U.S. to understand the interplay of climate change and anthropogenic activities on a temporal scale. Key Results Latitudinal climate shifts drove latitudinal abundance gradients, and regionally different levels of land-use change resulted in global geographic disparities in population abundance. At a regional scale, population isolation, which accounts for rescue effects, played an important role, particularly in Europe and East Asia where several hotspots occurred. Furthermore, the variables most strongly influencing abundance patterns greatly differed by region: precipitation seasonality in Europe, spatial heterogeneity of temperature and precipitation in East Asia, and magnitudes of past climate change, temperature seasonality, and edaphic conditions in North America. In the U.S., protected populations showed increasing trends compared to unprotected populations at the same latitude, highlighting the critical role of habitat protection in conservation measures. Conclusions Geographic disparities in the abundance patterns of HTF complex were determined by hierarchical systems of environmental controls, wherein climatic and land-use dynamics act globally but are modulated by various regional and local determinants operating at increasingly finer scales. We highlighted that fern conservation must be tailored to particular geographic contexts and environmental conditions by incorporating a better understanding of the dynamics acting at different spatiotemporal scales.

Testo, W. L., A. L. de Gasper, S. Molino, J. M. G. y Galán, A. Salino, V. A. de O. Dittrich, and E. B. Sessa. 2022. Deep vicariance and frequent transoceanic dispersal shape the evolutionary history of a globally distributed fern family. American Journal of Botany. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajb2.16062

Premise Historical biogeography of ferns is typically expected to be dominated by long-distance dispersal, due to their minuscule spores. However, few studies have inferred the historical biogeography of a large and widely distributed group of ferns to test this hypothesis. Our aims are to determine the extent to which long-distance dispersal vs. vicariance have shaped the history of the fern family Blechnaceae, to explore ecological correlates of dispersal and diversification, and to determine whether these patterns differ between the northern and southern hemispheres. Methods We used sequence data for three chloroplast loci to infer a time-calibrated phylogeny for 154 out of 265 species of Blechnaceae, including representatives of all genera in the family. This tree was used to conduct ancestral range reconstruction and stochastic character mapping, estimate diversification rates, and identify ecological correlates of diversification. Key results Blechnaceae originated in Eurasia and began diversifying in the late Cretaceous. A lineage comprising most extant diversity diversified principally in the austral Pacific region around the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. Land connections that existed near the poles during periods of warm climates likely facilitated migration of several lineages, with subsequent climate-mediated vicariance shaping current distributions. Long-distance dispersal is frequent and asymmetrical, with New Zealand/Pacific Islands, Australia, and tropical America being major source areas. Conclusions Ancient vicariance and extensive long-distance dispersal have shaped the history of Blechnaceae in both the northern and southern hemispheres. The exceptional diversity in austral regions appears to reflect rapid speciation in these areas; mechanisms underlying this evolutionary success remain uncertain.

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.

Williams, C. J. R., D. J. Lunt, U. Salzmann, T. Reichgelt, G. N. Inglis, D. R. Greenwood, W. Chan, et al. 2022. African Hydroclimate During the Early Eocene From the DeepMIP Simulations. Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology 37. https://doi.org/10.1029/2022pa004419

The early Eocene (∼56‐48 million years ago) is characterised by high CO2 estimates (1200‐2500 ppmv) and elevated global temperatures (∼10 to 16°C higher than modern). However, the response of the hydrological cycle during the early Eocene is poorly constrained, especially in regions with sparse data coverage (e.g. Africa). Here we present a study of African hydroclimate during the early Eocene, as simulated by an ensemble of state‐of‐the‐art climate models in the Deep‐time Model Intercomparison Project (DeepMIP). A comparison between the DeepMIP pre‐industrial simulations and modern observations suggests that model biases are model‐ and geographically dependent, however these biases are reduced in the model ensemble mean. A comparison between the Eocene simulations and the pre‐industrial suggests that there is no obvious wetting or drying trend as the CO2 increases. The results suggest that changes to the land sea mask (relative to modern) in the models may be responsible for the simulated increases in precipitation to the north of Eocene Africa. There is an increase in precipitation over equatorial and West Africa and associated drying over northern Africa as CO2 rises. There are also important dynamical changes, with evidence that anticyclonic low‐level circulation is replaced by increased south‐westerly flow at high CO2 levels. Lastly, a model‐data comparison using newly‐compiled quantitative climate estimates from palaeobotanical proxy data suggests a marginally better fit with the reconstructions at lower levels of CO2.

Reichgelt, T., D. R. Greenwood, S. Steinig, J. G. Conran, D. K. Hutchinson, D. J. Lunt, L. J. Scriven, and J. Zhu. 2022. Plant Proxy Evidence for High Rainfall and Productivity in the Eocene of Australia. Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology 37. https://doi.org/10.1029/2022pa004418

During the early to middle Eocene, a mid‐to‐high latitudinal position and enhanced hydrological cycle in Australia would have contributed to a wetter and “greener” Australian continent where today arid to semi‐arid climates dominate. Here, we revisit 12 southern Australian plant megafossil sites from the early to middle Eocene to generate temperature, precipitation and seasonality paleoclimate estimates, net primary productivity (NPP) and vegetation type, based on paleobotanical proxies and compare to early Eocene global climate models. Temperature reconstructions are uniformly subtropical (mean annual, summer, and winter mean temperatures 19–21 °C, 25–27 °C and 14–16 °C, respectively), indicating that southern Australia was ∼5 °C warmer than today, despite a >20° poleward shift from its modern geographic location. Precipitation was less homogeneous than temperature, with mean annual precipitation of ∼60 cm over inland sites and >100 cm over coastal sites. Precipitation may have been seasonal with the driest month receiving 2–7× less than mean monthly precipitation. Proxy‐model comparison is favorable with an 1680 ppm CO2 concentration. However, individual proxy reconstructions can disagree with models as well as with each other. In particular, seasonality reconstructions have systemic offsets. NPP estimates were higher than modern, implying a more homogenously “green” southern Australia in the early to middle Eocene, when this part of Australia was at 48–64 °S, and larger carbon fluxes to and from the Australian biosphere. The most similar modern vegetation type is modern‐day eastern Australian subtropical forest, although distance from coast and latitude may have led to vegetation heterogeneity.

Chevalier, M. 2022. <i>crestr</i>: an R package to perform probabilistic climate reconstructions from palaeoecological datasets. Climate of the Past 18: 821–844. https://doi.org/10.5194/cp-18-821-2022

Abstract. Statistical climate reconstruction techniques are fundamental tools to study past climate variability from fossil proxy data. In particular, the methods based on probability density functions (or PDFs) can be used in various environments and with different climate proxies because they rely on elementary calibration data (i.e. modern geolocalised presence data). However, the difficulty of accessing and curating these calibration data and the complexity of interpreting probabilistic results have often limited their use in palaeoclimatological studies. Here, I introduce a new R package (crestr) to apply the PDF-based method CREST (Climate REconstruction SofTware) on diverse palaeoecological datasets and address these problems. crestr includes a globally curated calibration dataset for six common climate proxies (i.e. plants, beetles, chironomids, rodents, foraminifera, and dinoflagellate cysts) associated with an extensive range of climate variables (20 terrestrial and 19 marine variables) that enables its use in most terrestrial and marine environments. Private data collections can also be used instead of, or in combination with, the provided calibration dataset. The package includes a suite of graphical diagnostic tools to represent the data at each step of the reconstruction process and provide insights into the effect of the different modelling assumptions and external factors that underlie a reconstruction. With this R package, the CREST method can now be used in a scriptable environment and thus be more easily integrated with existing workflows. It is hoped that crestr will be used to produce the much-needed quantified climate reconstructions from the many regions where they are currently lacking, despite the availability of suitable fossil records. To support this development, the use of the package is illustrated with a step-by-step replication of a 790 000-year-long mean annual temperature reconstruction based on a pollen record from southeastern Africa.

Sluiter, I. R. K., G. R. Holdgate, T. Reichgelt, D. R. Greenwood, A. P. Kershaw, and N. L. Schultz. 2022. A new perspective on Late Eocene and Oligocene vegetation and paleoclimates of South-eastern Australia. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 596: 110985. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2022.110985

We present a composite terrestrial pollen record of latest Eocene through Oligocene (35.5–23 Ma) vegetation and climate change from the Gippsland Basin of south-eastern Australia. Climates were overwhelmingly mesothermic through this time period, with mean annual temperature (MAT) varying between 13 and 18 °C, with an average of 16 °C. We provide evidence to support a cooling trend through the Eocene–Oligocene Transition (EOT), but also identify three subsequent warming cycles through the Oligocene, leading to more seasonal climates at the termination of the Epoch. One of the warming episodes in the Early Oligocene appears to have also occurred at two other southern hemisphere sites at the Drake Passage as well as off eastern Tasmania, based on recent research. Similarities with sea surface temperature records from modern high southern latitudes which also record similar cycles of warming and cooling, are presented and discussed. Annual precipitation varied between 1200 and 1700 mm/yr, with an average of 1470 mm/yr through the sequence. Notwithstanding the extinction of Nothofagus sg. Brassospora from Australia and some now microthermic humid restricted Podocarpaceae conifer taxa, the rainforest vegetation of lowland south-eastern Australia is reconstructed to have been similar to present day Australian Evergreen Notophyll Vine Forests existing under the sub-tropical Köppen-Geiger climate class Cfa (humid subtropical) for most of the sequence. Short periods of cooler climates, such as occurred through the EOT when MAT was ~ 13 °C, may have supported vegetation similar to modern day Evergreen Microphyll Fern Forest. Of potentially greater significance, however, was a warm period in the Early to early Late Oligocene (32–26 Ma) when MAT was 17–18 °C, accompanied by small but important increases in Araucariaceae pollen. At this time, Araucarian Notophyll/Microphyll Vine Forest likely occurred regionally.

Liang, S., X. Zhang, and R. Wei. 2022. Ecological adaptation shaped the genetic structure of homoploid ferns against strong dispersal capacity. Molecular Ecology 31: 2679–2697. https://doi.org/10.1111/mec.16420

The formation of spatial genetic structure with the presence of extensive gene flow, an evolutionary force which is generally expected to eliminate population-specific variation and maintain genetic homogeneity, remains poorly understood. Homosporous ferns, which spread by spores through wind and possess long-distance dispersal capacity, provide an ideal system to investigate such a process. Here, using a homoploid fern lineage, the Athyrium sinense complex, we used reduced-representation genomic data to examine spatial genetic structure and explored potential driving forces including geographical distance, environment, climatic history and external dispersal constraints. Our findings showed a clear north-south divergence at the genetic, morphological and ecological levels between both sides of 35°N in East Asia. Fluctuant and heterogeneous climatic condition was demonstrated to play a crucial role during the formation of the divergence. Our results suggested that this lineage was able to migrate southward and colonize new habitat as a result of the Quaternary climatic fluctuation. Furthermore, the present genetic structure is attributed to adaptation to heterogeneous environments, especially temperature difference. In addition to ecological adaptation, we found clues showing that canopy density, wind direction as well as habitat continuity were all likely to constrain the effect of gene flow. These results demonstrated a diversification process without ploidy changes in ferns providing new insights for our present knowledge on ferns’ spatio-temporal evolutionary pattern. In particular, our study highlights the influence of environmental heterogeneity in driving genetic divergence against strong dispersal capacity.

Vasconcelos, T., J. D. Boyko, and J. M. Beaulieu. 2021. Linking mode of seed dispersal and climatic niche evolution in flowering plants. Journal of Biogeography. https://doi.org/10.1111/jbi.14292

Aim: Due to the sessile nature of flowering plants, movements to new geographical areas occur mainly during seed dispersal. Frugivores tend to be efficient dispersers because animals move within the boundaries of their preferable niches, so seeds are more likely to be transported to environments tha…