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Marks, R. A., P. Delgado, G. M. Makonya, K. Cooper, R. VanBuren, and J. M. Farrant. 2024. Higher order polyploids exhibit enhanced desiccation tolerance in the grass Microchloa caffra. Journal of Experimental Botany. https://doi.org/10.1093/jxb/erae126

Desiccation tolerance evolved recurrently across diverse plant lineages to enable survival in water limited conditions. Many resurrection plants are polyploid and several groups have hypothesized that polyploidy contributed to the evolution of desiccation tolerance. However, due to the vast phylogenetic distance between resurrection plant lineages, the rarity of desiccation tolerance, and the prevalence of polyploidy in plants, this hypothesis has been difficult to test. Here, we surveyed natural variation in morphological, reproductive, and desiccation tolerance traits across several cytotypes of a single species to test for links between polyploidy and increased resilience. We sampled multiple natural populations of the resurrection grass Microchloa caffra across an environmental gradient ranging from mesic to xeric in South Africa. We describe two distinct ecotypes of M. caffra that occupy different extremes of the environmental gradient and exhibit consistent differences in ploidy, morphological, reproductive, and desiccation tolerance traits in both field and common growth conditions. Interestingly, plants with more polyploid genomes exhibited consistently higher recovery from desiccation, were less reproductive, and larger than plants with smaller genomes and lower ploidy. These data suggest that selective pressures in increasingly xeric sites may play a role in maintaining and increasing desiccation tolerance that are mediated by changes in ploidy.

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.

Tang, T., Y. Zhu, Y.-Y. Zhang, J.-J. Chen, J.-B. Tian, Q. Xu, B.-G. Jiang, et al. 2024. The global distribution and the risk prediction of relapsing fever group Borrelia: a data review with modelling analysis. The Lancet Microbe. https://doi.org/10.1016/s2666-5247(23)00396-8

Background The recent discovery of emerging relapsing fever group Borrelia (RFGB) species, such as Borrelia miyamotoi, poses a growing threat to public health. However, the global distribution and associated risk burden of these species remain uncertain. We aimed to map the diversity, distribution, and potential infection risk of RFGB.MethodsWe searched PubMed, Web of Science, GenBank, CNKI, and eLibrary from Jan 1, 1874, to Dec 31, 2022, for published articles without language restriction to extract distribution data for RFGB detection in vectors, animals, and humans, and clinical information about human patients. Only articles documenting RFGB infection events were included in this study, and data for RFGB detection in vectors, animals, or humans were composed into a dataset. We used three machine learning algorithms (boosted regression trees, random forest, and least absolute shrinkage and selection operator logistic regression) to assess the environmental, ecoclimatic, biological, and socioeconomic factors associated with the occurrence of four major RFGB species: Borrelia miyamotoi, Borrelia lonestari, Borrelia crocidurae, and Borrelia hermsii; and mapped their worldwide risk level.FindingsWe retrieved 13 959 unique studies, among which 697 met the selection criteria and were used for data extraction. 29 RFGB species have been recorded worldwide, of which 27 have been identified from 63 tick species, 12 from 61 wild animals, and ten from domestic animals. 16 RFGB species caused human infection, with a cumulative count of 26 583 cases reported from Jan 1, 1874, to Dec 31, 2022. Borrelia recurrentis (17 084 cases) and Borrelia persica (2045 cases) accounted for the highest proportion of human infection. B miyamotoi showed the widest distribution among all RFGB, with a predicted environmentally suitable area of 6·92 million km2, followed by B lonestari (1·69 million km2), B crocidurae (1·67 million km2), and B hermsii (1·48 million km2). The habitat suitability index of vector ticks and climatic factors, such as the annual mean temperature, have the most significant effect among all predictive models for the geographical distribution of the four major RFGB species.InterpretationThe predicted high-risk regions are considerably larger than in previous reports. Identification, surveillance, and diagnosis of RFGB infections should be prioritised in high-risk areas, especially within low-income regions.FundingNational Key Research and Development Program of China.

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.

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.

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.

Hebets, E. A., M. Oviedo-Diego, F. Cargnelutti, F. Bollatti, L. Calbacho-Rosa, C. I. Mattoni, P. Olivero, et al. 2023. A scientist’s guide to Solifugae: how solifuges could advance research in ecology, evolution, and behaviour. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. https://doi.org/10.1093/zoolinnean/zlad174

Despite having >1200 described species and despite their nearly worldwide distribution and prevalence in many xeric ecosystems, relative to many other arachnid groups, we know little about the natural history and behaviour of animals in the order Solifugae (camel spiders, sun spiders, sun scorpions, etc.). Here, we review the current solifuge literature through the lens of conceptual research areas in ecology, evolution, and behaviour and propose ways in which solifuges can contribute to research in specific subfields, as follows: (i) ecology: community and trophic dynamics; connecting food webs; habitat specialization; and biodiversity and conservation; (ii) evolution: speciation and diversification; activity cycles and associated traits; adaptations for speed; and living in extreme environments; and (iii) behaviour and sensory systems: sleep, quiescence, and diapause; sensory systems and sensory ecology; learning and cognition; and mating systems, sexual selection, and sexual conflict. This resource can provide a starting point for identifying research programmes that will simultaneously contribute basic natural history information about this under-studied group and provide a broader understanding of fundamental concepts and theories across the life sciences. We hope that scientists will take this review as a challenge to develop creative ways of leveraging the unique features of solifuges to advance scientific knowledge and understanding.

Putra, A. R., K. A. Hodgins, and A. Fournier‐Level. 2023. Assessing the invasive potential of different source populations of ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia L.) through genomically informed species distribution modelling. Evolutionary Applications. https://doi.org/10.1111/eva.13632

The genetic composition of founding populations is likely to play a key role in determining invasion success. Individual genotypes may differ in habitat preference and environmental tolerance, so their ability to colonize novel environments can be highly variable. Despite the importance of genetic variation on invasion success, its influence on the potential distribution of invaders is rarely investigated. Here, we integrate population genomics and ecological niche models (ENMs) into a single framework to predict the distribution of globally invasive common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) in Australia. We identified three genetic clusters for ragweed and used these to construct cluster‐specific ENMs and characterize within‐species niche differentiation. The potential range of ragweed in Australia depended on the genetic composition and continent of origin of the introduced population. Invaders originating from warmer, wetter climates had a broader potential distribution than those from cooler, drier ones. By quantifying this change, we identified source populations most likely to expand the ragweed distribution. As prevention remains the most effective method of invasive species management, our work provides a valuable way of ranking the threat posed by different populations to better inform management decisions.

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.

Qin, F., T. Xue, X. Zhang, X. Yang, J. Yu, S. R. Gadagkar, and S. Yu. 2023. Past climate cooling and orogenesis of the Hengduan Mountains have influenced the evolution of Impatiens sect. Impatiens (Balsaminaceae) in the Northern Hemisphere. BMC Plant Biology 23. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12870-023-04625-w

Background Impatiens sect. Impatiens is distributed across the Northern Hemisphere and has diversified considerably, particularly within the Hengduan Mountains (HDM) in southwest China. Yet, the infra-sectional phylogenetic relationships are not well resolved, largely due to limited taxon sampling and an insufficient number of molecular markers. The evolutionary history of its diversification is also poorly understood. In this study, plastome data and the most complete sampling to date were used to reconstruct a robust phylogenetic framework for this section. The phylogeny was then used to investigate its biogeographical history and diversification patterns, specifically with the aim of understanding the role played by the HDM and past climatic changes in its diversification. Results A stable phylogeny was reconstructed that strongly supported both the monophyly of the section and its division into seven major clades (Clades I-VII). Molecular dating and ancestral area reconstruction suggest that sect. Impatiens originated in the HDM and Southeast China around 11.76 Ma, after which different lineages dispersed to Northwest China, temperate Eurasia, and North America, mainly during the Pliocene and Pleistocene. An intercontinental dispersal event from East Asia to western North America may have occurred via the Bering Land Bridge or Aleutian Islands. The diversification rate was high during its early history, especially with the HDM, but gradually decreased over time both within and outside the HDM. Multiple linear regression analysis showed that the distribution pattern of species richness was strongly associated with elevation range, elevation, and mean annual temperature. Finally, ancestral niche analysis indicated that sect. Impatiens originated in a relatively cool, middle-elevation area. Conclusions We inferred the evolutionary history of sect. Impatiens based on a solid phylogenetic framework. The HDM was the primary source or pump of its diversity in the Northern Hemisphere. Orogeny and climate change may have also shaped its diversification rates, as a steady decrease in the diversification rate coincided with the uplift of the HDM and climate cooling. These findings provide insights into the distribution pattern of sect. Impatiens and other plants in the Northern Hemisphere.