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Concept: Biogeography


Whether introduced species invasions pose a major threat to biodiversity is hotly debated. Much of this debate is fueled by recent findings that competition from introduced organisms has driven remarkably few plant species to extinction. Instead, native plant species in invaded ecosystems are often found in refugia: patchy, marginal habitats unsuitable to their nonnative competitors. However, whether the colonization and extinction dynamics of these refugia allow long-term native persistence is uncertain. Of particular concern is the possibility that invasive plants may induce an extinction debt in the native flora, where persistence over the short term masks deterministic extinction trajectories. We examined how invader impacts on landscape structure influence native plant persistence by combining recently developed quantitative techniques for evaluating metapopulation persistence with field measurements of an invaded plant community. We found that European grass invasion of an edaphically heterogeneous California landscape has greatly decreased the likelihood of the persistence of native metapopulations. It does so via two main pathways: (i) decreasing the size of native refugia, which reduces seed production and increases local extinction, and (ii) eroding the dispersal permeability of the matrix between refugia, which reduces their connectivity. Even when native plant extinction is the deterministic outcome of invasion, the time to extinction can be on the order of hundreds of years. We conclude that the relatively short time since invasion in many parts of the world is insufficient to observe the full impact of plant invasions on native biodiversity.

Concepts: Plant, Ecology, Term, Extinction, Invasive species, Introduced species, Biogeography, Habitat fragmentation


The modern Asian monsoonal systems are currently believed to have originated around the end of the Oligocene following a crucial step of uplift of the Tibetan-Himalayan highlands. Although monsoon possibly drove the evolution of many mammal lineages during the Neogene, no evidence thereof has been provided so far. We examined the evolutionary history of a clade of rodents, the Rhizomyinae, in conjunction with our current knowledge of monsoon fluctuations over time. The macroevolutionary dynamics of rhizomyines were analyzed within a well-constrained phylogenetic framework coupled with biogeographic and evolutionary rate studies. The evolutionary novelties developed by these rodents were surveyed in parallel with the fluctuations of the Indian monsoon so as to evaluate synchroneity and postulate causal relationships. We showed the existence of three drops in biodiversity during the evolution of rhizomyines, all of which reflected elevated extinction rates. Our results demonstrated linkage of monsoon variations with the evolution and biogeography of rhizomyines. Paradoxically, the evolution of rhizomyines was accelerated during the phases of weakening of the monsoons, not of strengthening, most probably because at those intervals forest habitats declined, which triggered extinction and progressive specialization toward a burrowing existence.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Evolution, Biology, Ecology, Evolutionary biology, Extinction, Monsoon, Biogeography


Functional redundancy has been debated largely in ecology and conservation, yet we lack detailed empirical studies on the roles of functionally similar species in ecosystem function. Large bodied frugivores may disperse similar plant species and have strong impact on plant recruitment in tropical forests. The two largest frugivores in the neotropics, tapirs (Tapirus terrestris) and muriquis (Brachyteles arachnoides) are potential candidates for functional redundancy on seed dispersal effectiveness. Here we provide a comparison of the quantitative, qualitative and spatial effects on seed dispersal by these megafrugivores in a continuous Brazilian Atlantic forest.

Concepts: Scientific method, Biodiversity, Ecology, Ecosystem, Forest, Biogeography, Great American Interchange, Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests


We coordinated biogeographical comparisons of the impacts of an exotic invasive tree in its native and non-native ranges with a congeneric comparison in the non-native range. Prosopis juliflora is taxonomically complicated and with P. pallida forms the P. juliflora complex. Thus we sampled P. juliflora in its native Venezuela, and also located two field sites in Peru, the native range of Prosopis pallida. Canopies of Prosopis juliflora, a native of the New World but an invader in many other regions, had facilitative effects on the diversity of other species in its native Venezuela, and P. pallida had both negative and positive effects depending on the year, (overall neutral effects) in its native Peru. However, in India and Hawaii, USA, where P. juliflora is an aggressive invader, canopy effects were consistently and strongly negative on species richness. Prosopis cineraria, a native to India, had much weaker effects on species richness in India than P. juliflora. We carried out multiple congeneric comparisons between P. juliflora and P. cineraria, and found that soil from the rhizosphere of P. juliflora had higher extractable phosphorus, soluble salts and total phenolics than P. cineraria rhizosphere soils. Experimentally applied P. juliflora litter caused far greater mortality of native Indian species than litter from P. cineraria. Prosopis juliflora leaf leachate had neutral to negative effects on root growth of three common crop species of north-west India whereas P. cineraria leaf leachate had positive effects. Prosopis juliflora leaf leachate also had higher concentrations of total phenolics and L-tryptophan than P. cineraria, suggesting a potential allelopathic mechanism for the congeneric differences. Our results also suggest the possibility of regional evolutionary trajectories among competitors and that recent mixing of species from different trajectories has the potential to disrupt evolved interactions among native species.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Ecology, Root, Biogeography, Prosopis juliflora, Prosopis, Invasive plant species


Cave shrimps from the genera Typhlatya, Stygiocaris and Typhlopatsa (Atyidae) are restricted to specialised coastal subterranean habitats or nearby freshwaters and have a highly disconnected distribution (Eastern Pacific, Caribbean, Atlantic, Mediterranean, Madagascar, Australia). The combination of a wide distribution and a limited dispersal potential suggests a large-scale process has generated this geographic pattern. Tectonic plates that fragment ancestral ranges (vicariance) has often been assumed to cause this process, with the biota as passive passengers on continental blocks. The ancestors of these cave shrimps are believed to have inhabited the ancient Tethys Sea, with three particular geological events hypothesised to have led to their isolation and divergence; (1) the opening of the Atlantic Ocean, (2) the breakup of Gondwana, and (3) the closure of the Tethys Seaway. We test the relative contribution of vicariance and dispersal in the evolutionary history of this group using mitochondrial genomes to reconstruct phylogenetic and biogeographic scenarios with fossil-based calibrations. Given that the Australia/Madagascar shrimp divergence postdates the Gondwanan breakup, our results suggest both vicariance (the Atlantic opening) and dispersal. The Tethys closure appears not to have been influential, however we hypothesise that changing marine currents had an important early influence on their biogeography.

Concepts: Plate tectonics, Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Ocean, Gondwana, Biogeography, Black Sea, Pangaea


The páramo ecosystem has the highest rate of diversification across plant lineages on earth, of which the genus Espeletia (Asteraceae) is a prime example. The current distribution and molecular phylogeny of Espeletia suggest the influence of Andean geography and past climatic fluctuations on the diversification of this genus. However, molecular markers have failed to reveal subtle biogeographical trends in Espeletia diversification, and metabolomic evidence for allopatric segregation in plants has never been reported. Here, we present for the first time a metabolomics approach based on liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry for revealing subtle biogeographical trends in Espeletia diversification. We demonstrate that Espeletia lineages can be distinguished by means of different metabolic fingerprints correlated to the country of origin on a global scale and to the páramo massif on a regional scale. Distinctive patterns in the accumulation of secondary metabolites according to the main diversification centers of Espeletia are also identified and a comprehensive phytochemical characterization is reported. These findings demonstrate that a variation in the metabolic fingerprints of Espeletia lineages followed the biogeography of this genus, suggesting that our untargeted metabolomics approach can be potentially used as a model to understand the biogeographic history of additional plant groups in the páramo ecosystem.

Concepts: Metabolism, Biology, Ecology, Geography, Extinction, Metabolomics, Metabolome, Biogeography


We assess progress toward the protection of 50% of the terrestrial biosphere to address the species-extinction crisis and conserve a global ecological heritage for future generations. Using a map of Earth’s 846 terrestrial ecoregions, we show that 98 ecoregions (12%) exceed Half Protected; 313 ecoregions (37%) fall short of Half Protected but have sufficient unaltered habitat remaining to reach the target; and 207 ecoregions (24%) are in peril, where an average of only 4% of natural habitat remains. We propose a Global Deal for Nature-a companion to the Paris Climate Deal-to promote increased habitat protection and restoration, national- and ecoregion-scale conservation strategies, and the empowerment of indigenous peoples to protect their sovereign lands. The goal of such an accord would be to protect half the terrestrial realm by 2050 to halt the extinction crisis while sustaining human livelihoods.

Concepts: Ecology, Ecosystem, Natural resource, Protection, Nature, Habitat conservation, Biogeography, Habitat fragmentation


Current predictions of extinction risks from climate change vary widely depending on the specific assumptions and geographic and taxonomic focus of each study. I synthesized published studies in order to estimate a global mean extinction rate and determine which factors contribute the greatest uncertainty to climate change-induced extinction risks. Results suggest that extinction risks will accelerate with future global temperatures, threatening up to one in six species under current policies. Extinction risks were highest in South America, Australia, and New Zealand, and risks did not vary by taxonomic group. Realistic assumptions about extinction debt and dispersal capacity substantially increased extinction risks. We urgently need to adopt strategies that limit further climate change if we are to avoid an acceleration of global extinctions.

Concepts: Risk, Climate, Classical mechanics, Acceleration, Rate, Global warming, Biogeography, Specific force


The Migidae are a family of austral trapdoor spiders known to show a highly restricted and disjunct distribution pattern. Here, we aim to investigate the phylogeny and historical biogeography of the group, which was previously thought to be vicariant in origin, and examine the biogeographic origins of the genus Moggridgea using a dated multi-gene phylogeny. Moggridgea specimens were sampled from southern Australia and Africa, and Bertmainus was sampled from Western Australia. Sanger sequencing methods were used to generate a robust six marker molecular dataset consisting of the nuclear genes 18S rRNA, 28S rRNA, ITS rRNA, XPNPEP3 and H3 and the mitochondrial gene COI. Bayesian and Maximum Likelihood methods were used to analyse the dataset, and the key dispersal nodes were dated using BEAST. Based on our data, we demonstrate that Moggridgea rainbowi from Kangaroo Island, Australia is a valid member of the otherwise African genus Moggridgea. Molecular clock dating analyses show that the inter-specific divergence of M. rainbowi from African congeners is between 2.27-16.02 million years ago (Mya). This divergence date significantly post-dates the separation of Africa from Gondwana (95 Mya) and therefore does not support a vicariant origin for Australian Moggridgea. It also pre-dates human colonisation of Kangaroo Island, a result which is further supported by the intra-specific divergence date of 1.10-6.39 Mya between separate populations on Kangaroo Island. These analyses provide strong support for the hypothesis that Moggridgea colonised Australia via long-distance trans-Indian Ocean dispersal, representing the first such documented case in a mygalomorph spider.

Concepts: DNA, Molecular biology, Biology, Ribosomal RNA, Maximum likelihood, Australia, South Australia, Biogeography


Recent studies clarify where the most vulnerable species live, where and how humanity changes the planet, and how this drives extinctions. We assess key statistics about species, their distribution, and their status. Most are undescribed. Those we know best have large geographical ranges and are often common within them. Most known species have small ranges. The numbers of small-ranged species are increasing quickly, even in well-known taxa. They are geographically concentrated and are disproportionately likely to be threatened or already extinct. Current rates of extinction are about 1000 times the likely background rate of extinction. Future rates depend on many factors and are poised to increase. Although there has been rapid progress in developing protected areas, such efforts are not ecologically representative, nor do they optimally protect biodiversity.

Concepts: Conservation biology, Evolution, Ecology, Endangered species, Extinction, Genetic erosion, Biogeography, Gene pool