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Concept: Tropics


The great majority of plant species in the tropics require animals to achieve pollination, but the exact role of floral signals in attraction of animal pollinators is often debated. Many plants provide a floral reward to attract a guild of pollinators, and it has been proposed that floral signals of non-rewarding species may converge on those of rewarding species to exploit the relationship of the latter with their pollinators. In the orchid family (Orchidaceae), pollination is almost universally animal-mediated, but a third of species provide no floral reward, which suggests that deceptive pollination mechanisms are prevalent. Here, we examine floral colour and shape convergence in Neotropical plant communities, focusing on certain food-deceptive Oncidiinae orchids (e.g. Trichocentrum ascendens and Oncidium nebulosum) and rewarding species of Malpighiaceae. We show that the species from these two distantly related families are often more similar in floral colour and shape than expected by chance and propose that a system of multifarious floral mimicry-a form of Batesian mimicry that involves multiple models and is more complex than a simple one model-one mimic system-operates in these orchids. The same mimetic pollination system has evolved at least 14 times within the species-rich Oncidiinae throughout the Neotropics. These results help explain the extraordinary diversification of Neotropical orchids and highlight the complexity of plant-animal interactions.

Concepts: Evolution, Insect, Tropics, Mimicry, Polymorphism, Batesian mimicry, Orchidaceae, Oncidium


The proportion of organisms exposed to warm conditions is predicted to increase during global warming. To better understand how bats might respond to climate change, we aimed to obtain the first data on how use of torpor, a crucial survival strategy of small bats, is affected by temperature in the tropics. Over two mild winters, tropical free-ranging bats (Nyctophilus bifax, 10 g, n = 13) used torpor on 95% of study days and were torpid for 33.5±18.8% of 113 days measured. Torpor duration was temperature-dependent and an increase in ambient temperature by the predicted 2°C for the 21(st) century would decrease the time in torpor to 21.8%. However, comparisons among Nyctophilus populations show that regional phenotypic plasticity attenuates temperature effects on torpor patterns. Our data suggest that heterothermy is important for energy budgeting of bats even under warm conditions and that flexible torpor use will enhance bats' chance of survival during climate change.

Concepts: Tropics, Climate change, Bat, Global warming, Torpor, Hibernation


Previous studies indicated that the quality of tropical composts is poorer than that of composts produced in temperate regions. The aim of this study was to test the type of manure, the use of co-composting with green waste, and the stabilization method for their ability to improve compost quality in the tropics. We produced 68 composts and vermicomposts that were analysed for their C, lignin and NPK contents throughout the composting process. Bayesian networks were used to assess the mechanisms controlling compost quality. The concentration effect, for C and lignin, and the initial blend quality, for NPK content, were the main factors affecting compost quality. Cattle manure composts presented the highest C and lignin contents, and poultry litter composts exhibited the highest NPK content. Co-composting improved quality by enhancing the concentration effect, which reduced the impact of C and nutrient losses. Vermicomposting did not improve compost quality; co-composting without earthworms thus appears to be a suitable stabilization method under the conditions of this study because it produced high quality composts and is easier to implement.

Concepts: Tropics, Bayesian network, Networks, Bayesian probability, Humus, Compost, Composting, Vermicompost


Quantification of global forest change has been lacking despite the recognized importance of forest ecosystem services. In this study, Earth observation satellite data were used to map global forest loss (2.3 million square kilometers) and gain (0.8 million square kilometers) from 2000 to 2012 at a spatial resolution of 30 meters. The tropics were the only climate domain to exhibit a trend, with forest loss increasing by 2101 square kilometers per year. Brazil’s well-documented reduction in deforestation was offset by increasing forest loss in Indonesia, Malaysia, Paraguay, Bolivia, Zambia, Angola, and elsewhere. Intensive forestry practiced within subtropical forests resulted in the highest rates of forest change globally. Boreal forest loss due largely to fire and forestry was second to that in the tropics in absolute and proportional terms. These results depict a globally consistent and locally relevant record of forest change.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Climate, Tropics, Ecosystem, Forestry, Forest, Rainforest, Köppen climate classification


The Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis (IDH) is well-known in ecology providing an explanation for the role of disturbance in the coexistence of climax and colonist species. Here, we used the IDH as a framework to describe the role of forest disturbance in shaping the mosquito community structure, and to identify the ecological processes that increase the emergence of vector-borne disease. Mosquitoes were collected in central Panama at immature stages along linear transects in colonising, mixed and climax forest habitats, representing different levels of disturbance. Species were identified taxonomically and classified into functional categories (i.e., colonist, climax, disturbance-generalist, and rare). Using the Huisman-Olff-Fresco multi-model selection approach, IDH testing was done. We did not detect a unimodal relationship between species diversity and forest disturbance expected under the IDH; instead diversity peaked in old-growth forests. Habitat complexity and constraints are two mechanisms proposed to explain this alternative postulate. Moreover, colonist mosquito species were more likely to be involved in or capable of pathogen transmission than climax species. Vector species occurrence decreased notably in undisturbed forest settings. Old-growth forest conservation in tropical rainforests is therefore a highly-recommended solution for preventing new outbreaks of arboviral and parasitic diseases in anthropic environments.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Ecology, Mosquito, Tropics, Forest, Rainforest, Tropical rainforest, Ecological succession


Human influenza infections exhibit a strong seasonal cycle in temperate regions. Recent laboratory and epidemiological evidence suggests that low specific humidity conditions facilitate the airborne survival and transmission of the influenza virus in temperate regions, resulting in annual winter epidemics. However, this relationship is unlikely to account for the epidemiology of influenza in tropical and subtropical regions where epidemics often occur during the rainy season or transmit year-round without a well-defined season. We assessed the role of specific humidity and other local climatic variables on influenza virus seasonality by modeling epidemiological and climatic information from 78 study sites sampled globally. We substantiated that there are two types of environmental conditions associated with seasonal influenza epidemics: “cold-dry” and “humid-rainy”. For sites where monthly average specific humidity or temperature decreases below thresholds of approximately 11-12 g/kg and 18-21°C during the year, influenza activity peaks during the cold-dry season (i.e., winter) when specific humidity and temperature are at minimal levels. For sites where specific humidity and temperature do not decrease below these thresholds, seasonal influenza activity is more likely to peak in months when average precipitation totals are maximal and greater than 150 mm per month. These findings provide a simple climate-based model rooted in empirical data that accounts for the diversity of seasonal influenza patterns observed across temperate, subtropical and tropical climates.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Earth, Precipitation, Climate, Tropics, Influenza, Humidity, Seasons


Many of the world’s languages face serious risk of extinction. Efforts to prevent this cultural loss are severely constrained by a poor understanding of the geographical patterns and drivers of extinction risk. We quantify the global distribution of language extinction risk-represented by small range and speaker population sizes and rapid declines in the number of speakers-and identify the underlying environmental and socioeconomic drivers. We show that both small range and speaker population sizes are associated with rapid declines in speaker numbers, causing 25% of existing languages to be threatened based on criteria used for species. Language range and population sizes are small in tropical and arctic regions, particularly in areas with high rainfall, high topographic heterogeneity and/or rapidly growing human populations. By contrast, recent speaker declines have mainly occurred at high latitudes and are strongly linked to high economic growth. Threatened languages are numerous in the tropics, the Himalayas and northwestern North America. These results indicate that small-population languages remaining in economically developed regions are seriously threatened by continued speaker declines. However, risks of future language losses are especially high in the tropics and in the Himalayas, as these regions harbour many small-population languages and are undergoing rapid economic growth.

Concepts: Tropics, Geographical zone, Tropic of Cancer, Economics, Endangered species, Economic growth, Tropical climate, Equator


Recent epidemics of Zika, dengue, and chikungunya have heightened the need to understand the seasonal and geographic range of transmission by Aedes aegypti and Ae. albopictus mosquitoes. We use mechanistic transmission models to derive predictions for how the probability and magnitude of transmission for Zika, chikungunya, and dengue change with mean temperature, and we show that these predictions are well matched by human case data. Across all three viruses, models and human case data both show that transmission occurs between 18-34°C with maximal transmission occurring in a range from 26-29°C. Controlling for population size and two socioeconomic factors, temperature-dependent transmission based on our mechanistic model is an important predictor of human transmission occurrence and incidence. Risk maps indicate that tropical and subtropical regions are suitable for extended seasonal or year-round transmission, but transmission in temperate areas is limited to at most three months per year even if vectors are present. Such brief transmission windows limit the likelihood of major epidemics following disease introduction in temperate zones.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Mosquito, Yellow fever, Climate, Tropics, Aedes aegypti, Aedes, Dengue fever


Defaunation is causing declines of large-seeded animal-dispersed trees in tropical forests worldwide, but whether and how these declines will affect carbon storage across this biome is unclear. Here we show, using a pan-tropical data set, that simulated declines of large-seeded animal-dispersed trees have contrasting effects on aboveground carbon stocks across Earth’s tropical forests. In our simulations, African, American and South Asian forests, which have high proportions of animal-dispersed species, consistently show carbon losses (2-12%), but Southeast Asian and Australian forests, where there are more abiotically dispersed species, show little to no carbon losses or marginal gains (±1%). These patterns result primarily from changes in wood volume, and are underlain by consistent relationships in our empirical data (∼2,100 species), wherein, large-seeded animal-dispersed species are larger as adults than small-seeded animal-dispersed species, but are smaller than abiotically dispersed species. Thus, floristic differences and distinct dispersal mode-seed size-adult size combinations can drive contrasting regional responses to defaunation.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Southeast Asia, Plant, Tropics, Asia, Rainforest, Tropical rainforest, Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests


Extinction rates in the Anthropocene are three orders of magnitude higher than background and disproportionately occur in the tropics, home of half the world’s species. Despite global efforts to combat tropical species extinctions, lack of high-quality, objective information on tropical biodiversity has hampered quantitative evaluation of conservation strategies. In particular, the scarcity of population-level monitoring in tropical forests has stymied assessment of biodiversity outcomes, such as the status and trends of animal populations in protected areas. Here, we evaluate occupancy trends for 511 populations of terrestrial mammals and birds, representing 244 species from 15 tropical forest protected areas on three continents. For the first time to our knowledge, we use annual surveys from tropical forests worldwide that employ a standardized camera trapping protocol, and we compute data analytics that correct for imperfect detection. We found that occupancy declined in 22%, increased in 17%, and exhibited no change in 22% of populations during the last 3-8 years, while 39% of populations were detected too infrequently to assess occupancy changes. Despite extensive variability in occupancy trends, these 15 tropical protected areas have not exhibited systematic declines in biodiversity (i.e., occupancy, richness, or evenness) at the community level. Our results differ from reports of widespread biodiversity declines based on aggregated secondary data and expert opinion and suggest less extreme deterioration in tropical forest protected areas. We simultaneously fill an important conservation data gap and demonstrate the value of large-scale monitoring infrastructure and powerful analytics, which can be scaled to incorporate additional sites, ecosystems, and monitoring methods. In an era of catastrophic biodiversity loss, robust indicators produced from standardized monitoring infrastructure are critical to accurately assess population outcomes and identify conservation strategies that can avert biodiversity collapse.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Tropics, Forest, Extinction, Tropical rainforest, Biome, Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests