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Louw, G. J., L. J. Potgieter, and D. M. Richardson. 2024. Myoporum (Scrophulariaceae): Introduction, naturalization, and invasion of an enigmatic tree genus in South Africa. South African Journal of Botany 168: 529–541. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sajb.2024.03.022

Myoporum is a genus of trees and shrubs native to the Northern Hemisphere that has been introduced to many parts of the world, mainly for ornamental purposes. We assessed the introduction history, distribution, and extent of naturalization/invasion for Myoporum species in South Africa.Information was collated to determine key events associated with the introduction, establishment, and naturalization of Myoporum in South Africa. Data were collated to determine the current distribution of the genus in South Africa. Twenty sites in the Western Cape were sampled to determine correlates of naturalization. Myoporum was first recorded in South Africa in 1934. Three species were confirmed to be present in South Africa: M. insulare, M. laetum and M. montanum (37 %, 25 % and 24 % of all iNaturalist records respectively). Most records are from the Western Cape (91 %) and small parts of the Eastern Cape; isolated populations occur in Gauteng and the Northern Cape. We could not confirm the presence M. petiolatum, M. tenuifolium or M. tetrandrum. Field surveys revealed widespread naturalization of M. insulare (46 % of all Research Grade observations in iNaturalist); this species was categorized code D1 in the introduction-naturalization-invasion continuum. Myoporum laetum (C3) and M. montanum (C2) are also widely naturalized but over smaller areas. Naturalized populations comprised predominantly juvenile M. insulare plants occurring in highly disturbed (transformed) habitats. Formal risk analyses for all Myoporum species in South Africa are needed as the basis for re-evaluation of their status in national legislation.

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.

ter Huurne, M. B., L. J. Potgieter, C. Botella, and D. M. Richardson. 2023. Melaleuca (Myrtaceae): Biogeography of an important genus of trees and shrubs in a changing world. South African Journal of Botany 162: 230–244. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sajb.2023.08.052

The number of naturalised and invasive woody plant species has increased rapidly in recent decades. Despite the increasing interest in tree and shrub invasions, little is known about the invasion ecology of most species. This paper explores the global movement of species in the genus Melaleuca (Myrtaceae; here including the genus Callistemon). We assess the global introduction history, distribution and biogeographic status of the genus. Various global species occurrence databases, citizen science (iNaturalist), and the literature were used.Seventy-two species [out of 386 Melaleuca species; 19%] have been introduced to at least 125 regions outside their native range. The main regions of global Melaleuca introductions are Southeast Asia, the southern parts of North America, south-eastern South America, southern Africa and Europe. The earliest record of a Melaleuca species outside of the native range of the genus is 1789. First records of Melaleuca species outside their native range were most commonly recorded in the 1960s, with records from all over the world. The main reasons for Melaleuca introductions were for use in the tea tree (pharmaceutical value) and ornamental horticulture industries. Melaleuca introductions, naturalizations and invasions are recent compared to many other woody plant taxa. Experiences in Florida and South Africa highlight the potential of Melaleuca species to spread rapidly and have significant ecological impacts. It is likely that the accumulating invasion debt will result in further naturalization and invasion of Melaleuca species in the future.

Geier, C., J. M. Bouchal, S. Ulrich, D. Uhl, T. Wappler, S. Wedmann, R. Zetter, et al. 2023. Potential pollinators and paleoecological aspects of Eocene Ludwigia (Onagraceae) from Eckfeld, Germany. Palaeoworld. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palwor.2023.07.003

Paleogene flower-insect interactions and paleo-pollination processes are, in general, poorly understood and fossil evidence for such floral and faunal interactions are rarely reported. To shed light on angiosperm flower-insect interactions, we investigated several hundred fossil flowers and insects from the middle Eocene Fossil Lagerstätte of Eckfeld, Germany. During our work, we discovered a unique fossil Ludwigia flower (bud) with in situ pollen. The ecological preferences (climate, biome, habitat, etc.) of extant Ludwigia and the paleoecological configurations of the fossil plant assemblage support the taxonomic affiliation of the flower bud and an Eocene presence of Ludwigia in the vicinity of the former Lake Eckfeld. Today’s Ludwigia are mostly pollinated by Hymenoptera (bees). Therefore, we screened all currently known hymenopteran fossils from Eckfeld but found no Ludwigia pollen adhering to any of the specimens. On the contrary, we discovered Ludwigia pollen adhering to two different groups of Coleoptera (beetles). Our study suggests that during the Eocene of Europe, Ludwigia flowers were visited and probably pollinated by beetles and over time there was a shift in primary flower visitors/pollinators, from beetles to bees, sometime during the late Paleogene to Neogene.

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.

Richard-Bollans, A., C. Aitken, A. Antonelli, C. Bitencourt, D. Goyder, E. Lucas, I. Ondo, et al. 2023. Machine learning enhances prediction of plants as potential sources of antimalarials. Frontiers in Plant Science 14. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpls.2023.1173328

Plants are a rich source of bioactive compounds and a number of plant-derived antiplasmodial compounds have been developed into pharmaceutical drugs for the prevention and treatment of malaria, a major public health challenge. However, identifying plants with antiplasmodial potential can be time-consuming and costly. One approach for selecting plants to investigate is based on ethnobotanical knowledge which, though having provided some major successes, is restricted to a relatively small group of plant species. Machine learning, incorporating ethnobotanical and plant trait data, provides a promising approach to improve the identification of antiplasmodial plants and accelerate the search for new plant-derived antiplasmodial compounds. In this paper we present a novel dataset on antiplasmodial activity for three flowering plant families – Apocynaceae, Loganiaceae and Rubiaceae (together comprising c. 21,100 species) – and demonstrate the ability of machine learning algorithms to predict the antiplasmodial potential of plant species. We evaluate the predictive capability of a variety of algorithms – Support Vector Machines, Logistic Regression, Gradient Boosted Trees and Bayesian Neural Networks – and compare these to two ethnobotanical selection approaches – based on usage as an antimalarial and general usage as a medicine. We evaluate the approaches using the given data and when the given samples are reweighted to correct for sampling biases. In both evaluation settings each of the machine learning models have a higher precision than the ethnobotanical approaches. In the bias-corrected scenario, the Support Vector classifier performs best – attaining a mean precision of 0.67 compared to the best performing ethnobotanical approach with a mean precision of 0.46. We also use the bias correction method and the Support Vector classifier to estimate the potential of plants to provide novel antiplasmodial compounds. We estimate that 7677 species in Apocynaceae, Loganiaceae and Rubiaceae warrant further investigation and that at least 1300 active antiplasmodial species are highly unlikely to be investigated by conventional approaches. While traditional and Indigenous knowledge remains vital to our understanding of people-plant relationships and an invaluable source of information, these results indicate a vast and relatively untapped source in the search for new plant-derived antiplasmodial compounds.

Clemente, K. J. E., and M. S. Thomsen. 2023. High temperature frequently increases facilitation between aquatic foundation species: a global meta‐analysis of interaction experiments between angiosperms, seaweeds, and bivalves. Journal of Ecology. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2745.14101

Many studies have quantified ecological impacts of individual foundation species (FS). However, emerging data suggest that FS often co‐occur, potentially inhibiting or facilitating one another, thereby causing indirect, cascading effects on surrounding communities. Furthermore, global warming is accelerating, but little is known about how interactions between co‐occurring FS vary with temperature.Shallow aquatic sedimentary systems are often dominated by three types of FS: slower‐growing clonal angiosperms, faster‐growing solitary seaweeds, and shell‐forming filter‐ and deposit‐feeding bivalves. Here, we tested the impacts of one FS on another by analyzing manipulative interaction experiments from 148 papers with a global meta‐analysis.We calculated 1,942 (non‐independent) Hedges’ g effect sizes, from 11,652 extracted values over performance responses, such as abundances, growths or survival of FS, and their associated standard deviations and replication levels. Standard aggregation procedures generated 511 independent Hedges’ g that was classified into six types of reciprocal impacts between FS.We found that (i) seaweeds had consistent negative impacts on angiosperms across performance responses, organismal sizes, experimental approaches, and ecosystem types; (ii) angiosperms and bivalves generally had positive impacts on each other (e.g., positive effects of angiosperms on bivalves were consistent across organismal sizes and experimental approaches, but angiosperm effect on bivalve growth and bivalve effect on angiosperm abundance were not significant); (iii) bivalves positively affected seaweeds (particularly on growth responses); (iv) there were generally no net effects of seaweeds on bivalves (except for positive effect on growth) or angiosperms on seaweeds (except for positive effect on ‘other processes’); and (v) bivalve interactions with other FS were typically more positive at higher temperatures, but angiosperm‐seaweed interactions were not moderated by temperature.Synthesis: Despite variations in experimental and spatiotemporal conditions, the stronger positive interactions at higher temperatures suggest that facilitation, particularly involving bivalves, may become more important in a future warmer world. Importantly, addressing research gaps, such as the scarcity of FS interaction experiments from tropical and freshwater systems and for less studied species, as well as testing for density‐dependent effects, could better inform aquatic ecosystem conservation and restoration efforts and broaden our knowledge of FS interactions in the Anthropocene.

Huang, T., J. Chen, K. E. Hummer, L. A. Alice, W. Wang, Y. He, S. Yu, et al. 2023. Phylogeny of Rubus (Rosaceae): Integrating molecular and morphological evidence into an infrageneric revision. TAXON. https://doi.org/10.1002/tax.12885

Rubus (Rosaceae), one of the most complicated angiosperm genera, contains about 863 species, and is notorious for its taxonomic difficulty. The most recent (1910–1914) global taxonomic treatment of the genus was conducted by Focke, who defined 12 subgenera. Phylogenetic results over the past 25 years suggest that Focke's subdivisions of Rubus are not monophyletic, and large‐scale taxonomic revisions are necessary. Our objective was to provide a comprehensive phylogenetic analysis of the genus based on an integrative evidence approach. Morphological characters, obtained from our own investigation of living plants and examination of herbarium specimens are combined with chloroplast genomic data. Our dataset comprised 196 accessions representing 145 Rubus species (including cultivars and hybrids) and all of Focke's subgenera, including 60 endemic Chinese species. Maximum likelihood analyses inferred phylogenetic relationships. Our analyses concur with previous molecular studies, but with modifications. Our data strongly support the reclassification of several subgenera within Rubus. Our molecular analyses agree with others that only R. subg. Anoplobatus forms a monophyletic group. Other subgenera are para‐ or polyphyletic. We suggest a revised subgeneric framework to accommodate monophyletic groups. Character evolution is reconstructed, and diagnostic morphological characters for different clades are identified and discussed. Based on morphological and molecular evidence, we propose a new classification system with 10 subgenera: R. subg. Anoplobatus, R. subg. Batothamnus, R. subg. Chamaerubus, R. subg. Cylactis, R. subg. Dalibarda, R. subg. Idaeobatus, R. subg. Lineati, R. subg. Malachobatus, R. subg. Melanobatus, and R. subg. Rubus. The revised infrageneric nomenclature inferred from our analyses is provided along with synonymy and type citations. Our new taxonomic backbone is the first systematic and complete global revision of Rubus since Focke's treatment. It offers new insights into deep phylogenetic relationships of Rubus and has important theoretical and practical significance for the development and utilization of these important agronomic crops.