The plants’ geographical distribution is affected by natural or human-induced climate change. Numerous studies at both the global and regional level currently focus on the potential changes in plant distribution areas. Ecological niche modeling can help predict the likely distribution of species according to environmental variables under different climate scenarios. In this study, we predicted the potential geographic distributions of Quercus ilex L. (holm oak), a keystone species of the Mediterranean ecosystem, for the Last Interglacial period (LIG: ~120 Ka), the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM: ~22 Ka), mid-Holocene (MH: ~6 Ka), and future climate scenarios (Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 4.5 and 8.5 scenarios) for years 2050-2070 obtained from CCSM4 and MIROC-ESM global climate scenarios respectively. The models were produced with algorithms from the R-package “biomod2” and assessed by AUC of the Receiver Operating Characteristic plot and True Skill Statistics. Apart from BIOCLIM (SRE), all model algorithms performed similarly and produced projections that are supported by good evaluation scores, although Random Forest (RF) slightly outperformed all the others. Additionally, distribution maps generated for the past period were validated through a comparison with pollen data acquired from the Neotoma Pollen Database. The results revealed that southern areas of the Mediterranean Basin, particularly coastal regions, served as long-term refugia for Q. ilex, which was supported by fossil pollen data. Furthermore, the models suggest long term refugia role for Anatolia and we argue that Anatolia may have served as a founding population for the species. Future climate scenarios indicated that Q. ilex distribution varied by region, with some areas experiencing range contractions and others range expands. This study provides significant insights into the vulnerability of the Q. ilex to future climate change in the Mediterranean ecosystem and highlights the crucial role of Anatolia in the species’ historical distribution.
A general reaction norm model of any order can be formulated as a linear mixed model. From this follows that estimates of mean phenotypic traits in a population (fixed effects), and predictions of individual additive genetic deviations from mean reaction norm parameter values (random effects), can be found from the best linear unbiased predictions (BLUP) equation in matrix form. The resulting BLUP model is dynamical in the sense that the incidence matrix varies with time. This leads to a straightforward and multivariate alternative to infinite-dimensional and random regression modeling of reaction norms. Based on such a BLUP model, the within-generation changes in predicted mean reaction norm parameter values can be found by use of the Robertson-Price identity, applied on the predicted random effects. From this follows that the between-generation change in the mean values are found from Robertson’s secondary theorem of natural selection, applied on the predicted random effects. This explains why and to which extent the variances of BLUP random effects are underestimated, which is a well-known observation. The dynamical BLUP model will thus produce the mean reaction norms over time, which makes it possible to disentangle the microevolutionary and plasticity components in for example climate change responses. The BLUP responses will depend on the additive genetic relationship matrix A_t. When A_t is an identity matrix, the results will be identical to the results from a variant of the multivariate breeder’s equation, based on the selection gradient with respect to the individual phenotypic trait values. Parameters are assumed to be known and constant, but it is discussed how they can be estimated by means of a prediction error method. Generations are assumed to be non-overlapping, but adjustments for overlapping generations can easily be done.
Bioclimatic variables (BCVs) are the most widely used predictors within the field of ecological niche modeling. However, recent studies indicate that BCVs alone are not sufficient to describe these limits and more (bio)climatological variables should be considered. Unfortunately, the most popular database WorldClim offers only a limited selection of predictors; thus, other gridded station-based observations or reanalysis (GSOR) datasets should be taken into account. In the present study, we investigate how well the BCVs are represented by different GSOR datasets for the extended Mediterranean area within the period 1970-2020, how deviations among the datasets differ regionally and how different calculation schemes affect the representation of BCVs. We consider different calculation schemes for quarters/months, the annual mean temperature and the maximum temperature of the warmest month and show the effects on the respective BCV. Differences resulting from different calculation schemes are presented for ERA5-Land. Selected BCVs are analyzed to show differences between WorldClim, ERA5-Land, E-OBS and CRU. Our results show that (a) deviations between the two calculation schemes for annual mean temperature (maximum temperature of the warmest month) diminish (increase) when the temporal resolution is decreased; (b) with respect to the definition of the respective month/quarter, temporal shifts can have substantially different effects on the BCVs, depending on region; (c) overall, all datasets represent the different BCVs similarly, but with partly large differences in some subregions; (d) the largest differences occur when specific month/quarters are defined by the seasonal cycle of precipitation. In summary, (a) since the definition of BCVs matches different calculation schemes, a transparent communication of the BCVs calculation schemes is inevitable; (b) the calculation, integration or elimination of BCVs has to be examined carefully for each dataset, region, period or species; (c) the GSOR-Data provide, except some subregions, a consistent representation of BCVs within the extended Mediterranean region.
The interactions between different species in an ecosystem, such as predation and herbivory, are crucial for maintaining the ecosystem’s functioning, including pest control and nutrient cycling. Unfortunately, human activities are increasingly affecting these trophic relationships, contributing to the current decline in biodiversity, particularly due to urbanization and climate change. The intensity of trophic interactions is also affected by latitudinal gradients, which may be further impacted by urbanization, such as the urban island heat effect. This study aimed to investigate the hypothesis that the impact of human pressure on trophic interactions varies across different latitudes. To test this hypothesis, we selected 18 study sites at two latitudes (i.e., ~53°N and ~50°N) with varying human population density. We used artificial caterpillars placed on European beech branches to assess bird predation and took standardized pictures of the leaves to estimate insect herbivory. Remote sensing techniques were used to estimate human pressure. We found that the intensity of both bird predation and insect herbivory varied in response to human pressure, with opposite trends observed depending on the latitude. At the upper latitude, bird predation increased with human impact, while the opposite was observed at the lower latitude. All types of herbivory in both latitudes increased with urbanization. Moreover, at lower latitudes, species may face a disadvantage due to the urban heat island effect, as they tend to be relatively sensitive to temperature changes. Conversely, at higher latitudes, some species may benefit from a softer winter. Overall, this study highlights the complex and dynamic nature of trophic relationships in the face of human-driven changes to ecosystems. It also emphasizes the importance of considering both human pressure and latitudinal gradients when assessing the ecological consequences of future climate change scenarios, particularly in urban environments.
Monitoring is a prerequisite for evidence-based wildlife management, yet conventional monitoring approaches are often ineffective for species occurring at low densities. However, some species such as large mammals are often observed by lay people and this information can be leveraged through citizen science monitoring schemes. Assessing the quantity, quality, and potential biases of such data sources is crucial before making inferences at scale. For Eurasian moose (Alces alces), a species currently reoccurring in north-eastern Germany in low numbers, we compared three different citizen science tools: a mail/email report system, a smartphone application, and a webpage. Among these monitoring tools, the mail/email report system yielded the greatest number of moose reports in absolute and in standardized (corrected for time effort) terms. The reported moose were predominantly identified as single, adult, male individuals, and reports occurred mostly during late summer. Overlaying citizen science data with independently generated habitat suitability and connectivity maps showed that members of the public detected moose in suitable habitats but not necessarily in movement corridors. Also, moose detections were often recorded near roads, suggestive of spatial bias in sampling effort. Our results suggest that citizen science-based data collection can be facilitated by brief, intuitive digital reporting systems. However, inference from the resulting data can be limited due to unquantified and possibly biased sampling effort. To overcome these challenges, we offer specific recommendations such as engaging outdoor enthusiasts in suitable moose habitats, for improving quantity, quality and analysis of citizen science-based data for making robust inferences about wildlife populations.
The molluscan feeding structure is the radula, a chitinous membrane with teeth, which are highly adapted to the food and the substrate. In Polyplacophora and Patellogastropoda, the handling of hard ingesta can be facilitated by high content of chemical compounds containing Fe or Si in the tooth cusps. Other taxa, however, possess teeth that are less mineralized, even though animals have to avoid structural failure or high wear during feeding as well. Here, we investigated the gastropod Gastropteron rubrum, feeding on hard Foraminifera, diatoms and Porifera. Tooth morphologies and wear were documented by scanning electron microscopy and their mechanical properties were tested by nanoindentation. We determined, that gradients of hard- and stiffness run along each tooth, decreasing from cusp to basis. We also found, that inner lateral teeth are harder and stiffer than the outer ones. These findings allowed us to propose hypotheses about the radula-ingesta interaction. In search for the origins of the gradients, teeth were visualized using confocal laser scanning microscopy, to determine the degree of tanning, and analyzed with energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy, to test the elemental composition. We found that the mechanical gradients probably have their origin in the degree of tanning, as the teeth did not contain high proportions of metals or other minerals. However, in the tooth surfaces, which interact with the ingesta, high Si and Ca content was determined, which is likely an adaptation to reduce wear.
A better understanding of the impact of habitat loss on population density can be achieved by evaluating effects of both, parameters within remnant habitat patches and parameters of the landscape surrounding those patches. The integration of predictors at the patch and landscape level is scarce in animal ecological studies, especially for reptiles. In this study, a patch-landscape approach was applied to evaluate the combined effects of within patch habitat quality, patch geometry and landscape configuration and composition on the density of remnant populations of the eastern green lizard, Lacerta viridis, in a highly modified landscape in Bulgaria. Landscape composition variables (proportion of different land covers) were measured at different spatial scales surrounding patches. Single scale models were built to evaluate combined effects of all predictors on density, when including all landscape composition variables at a specific spatial scale. Multiscale models were applied to analyze combined effects when including landscape composition variables at the scale of their strongest effect (scale of effect, SoE). Results showed that the SoE of proportion of cropland and urban areas was small (50 m), while for proportion of habitat was large (1.5 Km). The overall effect of habitat loss was better explained by the multiscale model. Population density increased with patch area and decreased with patch shape irregularity and with the proportion of three land cover types surrounding patches -cropland, urban areas and habitat. Combining patch and landscape parameters is important to identify ecological processes that occur simultaneously at different spatial levels and landscape scales, and which would imply the application of multiscale approaches for the protection of wild animal populations. Results are contrasted with what is known about occupancy patterns of the species in the same region, and approaches to integrate both, occupancy and density, in the field design of animal ecological studies are suggested.
The purpose of inter-animal communication is to allow signals released by the animal to be perceived by others. Scent marking, with its characteristics of specificity and delay, is thought to be the primary mode of communication in giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca). The “signal detection theory” predicts that animals choose the substrate and location of their scent marks so that the signals released are transmitted more widely and remain longer. As an energetically marginal species, the cost of generating and marking chemical signals is costly for pandas, so they are predicted to make trade-offs in scent marking. However, existing studies do not account for the selective preferences of pandas for marking, as they are only explained by the density of marks at a certain location. Our study wanted to investigate whether the marking behavior of pandas is indeed consistent with signal detection theory. For the first time, we propose to use fecal counts to reflect the intensity of habitat use by pandas, combined with mark counts to determine the selective preference for marking. Our findings show that the scent marking behavior of pandas is consistent with signal detection theory, and that they go out of their way to ensure that their marks are detected. The results of the study will help us to further develop the conservation of pandas and their habitats.
Sharks, rays and chimaera form the clade Chondrichthyes, an ancient group of morphologically and ecologically diverse vertebrates that has played an important role in our understanding of gnathostome evolution. Increasingly studies have are seeking to investigate evolutionary processes operating within the chondrichthyan crown group, with the broad aim of understanding the driving forces behind the vast phenotypic diversity observed amongst its constituent taxa. Genetic, morphological and behavioural studies have all contributed to our understanding of phenotypic evolution yet are typically considered in isolation in the context of Chondrichthyes. I argue that integrating these core fields of organismal biology is vital if we are to understand the evolutionary processes operating in contemporary chondrichthyan taxa, and how such processes have contributed to past phenotypic evolution. In light of the global extinction crisis facing this clade, this understanding is crucial if we are to successfully conserve rapidly declining chondrichthyan populations.
The biogeography research of orchids through species distribution models (SDMs), a vital tool in the biogeography field, is critical to understanding the fundamental geographic distribution patterns and identifying conservation priorities. The correspondence between species occurrence and environmental information is crucial to the model’s performance. However, ecological preferences unique to different orchid species, such as their life forms, are often overlooked during the modeling process. This oversight can introduce bias and increase model uncertainty. Additionally, human activities, as an important potential predictor, have not been quantified in any orchid SDMs. Taking the Hengduan Mountains as an example, we preprocessed all orchid species’ occurrences based on physiological characteristics. Choosing five spatial factors related to human activities to quantify the interference and enter into models as HI factor. Using different modeling methods (GLM, MaxEnt, and RF) and evaluation indices (AUC, TSS, and Kappa), diverse modeling strategies have been constructed in the study. A double-ranking method has been adopted to select the critical orchid distribution regions. The results showed that classification models based on physiological characteristics significantly improved the model’s accuracy while adding the HI factor had the same effect but the absence of enough significance. Suitability maps indicated that highly heterogeneous mountainous areas were vital for the distribution of orchids in the Hengduan Mountains. Different distribution patterns and critical regions existed between various orchid life forms geographically - terrestrial orchids were dominant in the mountain, and mycoherterophical orchids were primarily located in the north, more influenced by vegetation and temperature. Critical regions of epiphytic orchids were in the south due to a greater dependence on precipitation and temperature. These studies are informative for understanding the orchids’ geographic distribution patterns in the Hengduan Mountains, promoting conservation, and providing references for similar research beyond orchids.
Eucalyptus snout beetles (Curculionidae: Gonipterus scutellatus complex), native to mainland Australia and Tasmania, defoliate Eucalyptus trees and are considered important pests. Since the 19th century, species of the G. scutellatus complex have been introduced to other continents. Here, we document the presence of Eucalyptus snout beetles in Ecuador and use ecological niche models to analyze their potential distribution in South America. Phylogenetic analyses of DNA sequences unambiguously demonstrated that the Ecuadorian specimens belong to the species G. platensis, which has low genetic diversity compared with other species in the complex. Ecological niche models revealed several areas of high to intermediate climatic suitability for the pest in South America, even in countries where it has not been registered, like Peru and Bolivia. Accurate identification of species in the Gonipterus scutellatus complex and understanding of their potential distribution are essential tools for improved management and prevention tactics.
Urbanization and the expansion of human activities foster radical ecosystem changes with cascading effects also involving host-pathogen interactions. Urban pollinator insects face several stressors related to landscape and local scale features such as green habitat loss, fragmentation, and availability reduction of floral resources with unpredictable effects on parasite transmission. Furthermore, beekeeping may contribute to the spread of parasites to wild pollinators by increasing the number of parasite hosts. Here we used DNA-based diagnostics tools to evaluate how the occurrence of parasites, namely microsporidians (Nosema spp.), trypanosomatids (Crithidia spp.) and neogregarines (Apicystis bombi), is shaped by the above-mentioned stressors in two bumblebee species (i.e, Bombus terrestris and B. pascuorum). Infection rates of the two species were different and generally higher in B. terrestris. Moreover, they showed different responses towards the same ecological variables, possibly due to differences in body size and foraging habits supposed to affect their susceptibility to parasite infection. The probability of infection was found to be reduced in B. pascuorum by green habitat fragmentation, while increased along with floral resource availability. Unexpectedly, B. terrestris had a lower parasite richness nearby apiaries probably because parasites are prone to be transmitted among the most abundant species. Our finding supports the need to design proper conservation measures based on species-specific knowledge, as suggested by the variation in the parasite occurrence of the two species. Moreover, conservation policies aiming at safeguarding pollinators through flower planting should consider the indirect effects of these measures for parasite transmission together with pollinator biodiversity issues.
Monitoring the effect of ecosystem restoration can be difficult and time consuming. Autonomous sensors, such as acoustic recorders, can aid monitoring across long time scales. This project successfully developed, tested and implemented call recognisers for eight species of frog in the Murray-Darling Basin. Recognisers for all but one species performed well and substantially better than many species recognisers reported in the literature. We achieved this through a comprehensive development phase, which carefully considered and refined the representativeness of training data, as well as the construction (amplitude cut-off) and the similarity thresholds (score cut-offs) of each call template used. Recogniser performance was high for almost all species examined. Recognisers for C. signifera, L. fletcherii, L. dumerilii, L. peronii, and C. parinsignifera all performed well, with most templates having ROC values (the proportion of true positive and true negatives) over 0.7, and some much higher. Recognisers for L. peronii, L. fletcherii and L. dumerilii performed particularly well in the training dataset, which allowed for responses to environmental watering events, a restoration activity, to be clearly observed. While slightly more involved than building recognisers using commercial packages, the workflows ensure that a high quality recogniser can be built and the performance fine-tuned using multiple parameters. Using the same framework, recognisers can be improved in future iterations. We believe that multi-species recognisers are a highly effective and precise way to detect the effects of ecosystem restoration.
Bird diversity has declined as native birds have avoided using the green desert after the Smooth Cordgrass Spartina alterniflora invaded coastal China. After many years of coexistence, a few passerine birds began to enter and use Smooth Cordgrass, but only birds of nonspecialised habitat. In this study, we first found that a native reed-specific bird, the Parrotbill Calamornis heudei, flocked and sang in a Smooth Cordgrass habitat in the whole overwintering period near Sheyang Port in Yancheng, Jiangsu Province. This phenomenon indicates that native obligate birds may be forced to adapt to exotic Smooth Cordgrass habitats after long-term coexistence; obviously, the distribution, feeding and reproduction of birds would be affected. Is this an ecological trap? Which may lead to unknown ecological consequences. We suggest that more research attention should be given to this process occurring along the Chinese coast.
Local adaptation to annually changing environments has evolved in numerous species. Seasonal coat colour change is an adaptation that has evolved in multiple mammal and bird species occupying areas that experience seasonal snow cover. It has a critical impact on fitness as predation risk may increase when an individual is mismatched against its habitat’s background colour. In this paper we investigate the impact of landscape covariates on moult timing in a native winter-adapted herbivore, the mountain hare (Lepus timidus), throughout Norway. Data was collected between 2011 and 2019 at 678 camera trap locations deployed across an environmental gradient. Based on this data, we created a Bayesian multinomial logistic regression model that quantified the correlations between landscape covariates and coat colour phenology and analysed among season and year moult timing variation. Our results demonstrate that mountain hare moult timing is strongly correlated with altitude and latitude with hares that live at higher latitudes and altitudes keeping their winter white coats for longer than their conspecifics that inhabit lower latitudes and altitudes. Moult timing was also weakly correlated with climate zone with hares that live in coastal climates keeping their winter white coats for longer than hares that live in continental climates. We found evidence of some among year moult timing variation in spring, but not in autumn. We conclude that mountain hare moult timing has adapted to local environmental conditions throughout Norway.
Ontogenetic color change in animals is an interesting evolution-related phenomenon that has been studied by evolutionary biologists for decades. However, the performance of quantitative and continuous color measurements throughout the life cycle of animals is a challenge. To understand the rhythm of change in tail color and sexual dichromatism, we used a spectrometer to measure the tail color of blue-tailed skink (Plestiodon elegans) from birth to sexual maturity. Lab color space was selected due to its simple, fast, and accurate and depends on the visual sense of the observer for measuring the tail color of skinks. A strong relationship was observed between color indexes (values of L*, a*, b*) and growth time of skink. The luminance of tail color decreased from juveniles to adults in both sexes. Moreover, we observed differences in color rhythms between the sexes, which may be influenced by different behavioral strategies employed by them. This study provides continuous measurements of change in tail color in skinks from juveniles to adults and offers insights into their sex-based differences. Our findings explain the potential factors that drive dichromatism between the sexes of lizards and is expected to serve as a reference for future studies that explore possible mechanisms of ontogenetic color change in reptiles.