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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


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


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


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


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


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


The Earth’s islands harbor a distinct, yet highly threatened, biological and cultural diversity that has been shaped by geographic isolation and unique environments. Island systems are key natural laboratories for testing theory in ecology and evolution. However, despite their potential usefulness for research, a quantitative description of island environments and an environmental classification are still lacking. Here, we prepare a standardized dataset and perform a comprehensive global environmental characterization for 17,883 of the world’s marine islands >1 km(2) (∼98% of total island area). We consider area, temperature, precipitation, seasonality in temperature and precipitation, past climate change velocity, elevation, isolation, and past connectivity-key island characteristics and drivers of ecosystem processes. We find that islands are significantly cooler, wetter, and less seasonal than mainlands. Constrained by their limited area, they show less elevational heterogeneity. Wet temperate climates are more prevalent on islands, whereas desert climates are comparatively rare. We use ordination and clustering to characterize islands in multidimensional environmental space and to delimit island ecoregions, which provides unique insights into the environmental configuration and diversity of the world’s islands. Combining ordination and classification together with global environmental data in a common framework opens up avenues for a more integrative use of islands in biogeography, macroecology, and conservation. To showcase possible applications of the presented data, we predict vascular plant species richness for all 17,883 islands based on statistically derived environment-richness relationships.

Concepts: Ecology, Earth, Natural environment, Precipitation, Climate, Ecosystem, Climate change, Biogeography


Freshwater fishes are highly vulnerable to human-caused climate change. Because quantitative data on status and trends are unavailable for most fish species, a systematic assessment approach that incorporates expert knowledge was developed to determine status and future vulnerability to climate change of freshwater fishes in California, USA. The method uses expert knowledge, supported by literature reviews of status and biology of the fishes, to score ten metrics for both (1) current status of each species (baseline vulnerability to extinction) and (2) likely future impacts of climate change (vulnerability to extinction). Baseline and climate change vulnerability scores were derived for 121 native and 43 alien fish species. The two scores were highly correlated and were concordant among different scorers. Native species had both greater baseline and greater climate change vulnerability than did alien species. Fifty percent of California’s native fish fauna was assessed as having critical or high baseline vulnerability to extinction whereas all alien species were classified as being less or least vulnerable. For vulnerability to climate change, 82% of native species were classified as highly vulnerable, compared with only 19% for aliens. Predicted climate change effects on freshwater environments will dramatically change the fish fauna of California. Most native fishes will suffer population declines and become more restricted in their distributions; some will likely be driven to extinction. Fishes requiring cold water (<22°C) are particularly likely to go extinct. In contrast, most alien fishes will thrive, with some species increasing in abundance and range. However, a few alien species will likewise be negatively affected through loss of aquatic habitats during severe droughts and physiologically stressful conditions present in most waterways during summer. Our method has high utility for predicting vulnerability to climate change of diverse fish species. It should be useful for setting conservation priorities in many different regions.

Concepts: Conservation biology, Animal, Future, Endangered species, Freshwater fish, Invasive species, Introduced species, Biogeography


Geographic barriers and elevational gradients have long been recognized as important in species diversification. Here, we illustrate an example where both mechanisms have shaped the genetic structure of the Neotropical rainfrog, Pristimantis ornatissimus, which has also resulted in speciation. This species was thought to be a single evolutionary lineage distributed throughout the Ecuadorian Chocó and the adjacent foothills of the Andes. Based on recent sampling of P. ornatissimus sensu lato, we provide molecular and morphological evidence that support the validity of a new species, which we name Pristimantis ecuadorensis sp. nov. The sister species are elevational replacements of each other; the distribution of Pristimantis ornatissimus sensu stricto is limited to the Ecuadorian Chocó ecoregion (< 1100 m), whereas the new species has only been found at Andean localities between 1450-1480 m. Given the results of the Multiple Matrix Regression with Randomization analysis, the genetic difference between P. ecuadorensis and P. ornatissimus is not explained by geographic distance nor environment, although environmental variables at a finer scale need to be tested. Therefore this speciation event might be the byproduct of stochastic historic extinction of connected populations or biogeographic events caused by barriers to dispersal such as rivers. Within P. ornatissimus sensu stricto, morphological patterns and genetic structure seem to be related to geographic isolation (e.g., rivers). Finally, we provide an updated phylogeny for the genus, including the new species, as well as other Ecuadorian Pristimantis.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Species, Speciation, Extinction, Andes, Biogeography, Ecuador