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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Frontiers of Biogeography

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Frontiers of Biogeography (FoB) is the scientific journal of the International Biogeography Society (IBS,, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to promotion of and public understanding of the biogeographical sciences.  IBS launched FoB to provide an independent forum for biogeographical science, with the academic standards expected of a journal operated by and for an academic society.

Issue cover
Cover Caption: Lymantria monacha, one of the focal species in Boyes et al. study in this issue of Frontiers of Biogeography, has become more abundant and spread northward through England and Wales over the last five decades, where it is typically associated with mature woodland.  Photo credit: Iain Leach.

Research Letters

Geologically recent rearrangements in central Amazonian river network and their importance for the riverine barrier hypothesis

The riverine barrier hypothesis is a central concept in Amazonian biogeography. It states that large rivers limit species distributions and trigger vicariant speciation. Although the hypothesis has explanatory power, many recent biogeographical observations addressing it have produced conflicting results. We propose that the controversies arise because tributary arrangements in the Amazon river system have changed in geologically recent times, such that large tracts of forest that were on the same side of a river at one time got separated to different sides at another. Based on topographical data and sediment dating, we map about 20 major avulsion and river capture events that have rearranged the river network in central Amazonia during the late Pleistocene and Holocene. We identify areas where past riverine barrier effects might still linger in the absence of a major river, as well as areas where such effects may not yet have accumulated across an existing river. These results call for a reinterpretation of previous biogeographical studies and a reorientation of future works to take into account the idiosyncratic histories of individual rivers.

  • 1 supplemental PDF
  • 1 supplemental ZIP

Population expansion of an Antarctic king crab?

Benthic assemblages of the Antarctic continental shelf are dominated by sessile and slow-moving, epifaunal invertebrates. This community structure persists because shell-crushing (durophagous) predators are absent or ecologically insignificant in shelf habitats. Durophagous teleosts, elasmobranchs, and crustaceans have been excluded by cold waters over the Antarctic shelf for millions of years. Now, as shallow waters warm rapidly, predatory king crabs (Lithodidae) living in the upper bathyal zone could emerge onto the shelf and into nearshore habitats. To assess the potential for a bathymetric expansion, we genetically inferred the historical demography of a population of the most abundant durophagous predator found in deep water off the western Antarctic Peninsula: the lithodid Paralomis birsteini Macpherson. Analysis of mitochondrial DNA sequences from crabs sampled at 1200–1400 m depth on the slope off Marguerite Bay suggests this population has expanded twice over the past 132,000 years. Those expansions were possibly coincident with episodes of climatic warming in Antarctica and elsewhere, raising the possibility of a third expansion in response to anthropogenic climate change.

A Constraint-based model of Dynamic Island Biogeography: environmental history and species traits predict hysteresis in populations and communities

A Constraint-based model of Dynamic Island Biogeography: environmental history and species traits predict hysteresis in populations and communities We present a conceptual model that shows how hysteresis can emerge in dynamic island systems given simple constraints on trait-mediated processes. Over time, many islands cycle between phases of increasing and decreasing size and connectivity to a mainland species pool. As these phases alternate, the dominant process driving species composition switches between colonization and extinction. Both processes are mediated by interactions between organismal traits and environmental constraints: colonization probability is affected by a species’ ability to cross the intervening matrix between a population source and the island; population persistence (or extinction) is driven by the minimum spatial requirements for sustaining an isolated population. Because different suites of traits often mediate these two processes, similar environmental conditions can lead to differences in species compositions at two points of time. Thus, the Constraint-based model of Dynamic Island Biogeography (C-DIB) illustrates the possible role of hysteresis—the dependency of outcomes not only on the current system state but also the system’s history of environmental change—in affecting populations and communities in insular systems. The model provides a framework upon which additional considerations of lag times, biotic interactions, evolution, and other processes can be incorporated. Importantly, it provides a testable framework to study the physical and biological constraints on populations and communities across diverse taxa, scales, and systems.

Research Articles

How likely are adaptive responses to mitigate the threats of climate change for amphibians globally?

Whether species are capable of adapting to rapid shifts in climate raises considerable interest. Analyses based on niche models often assume niche conservatism and equilibrium with climate, implying that species will persist only in regions where future climatic conditions match their current conditions and that they will colonize these regions promptly. However, species may adapt to changing climate and persist where future climates differ from their current optimum. Here, we provide a first macroecological generalization to the approach of evolutionary rescue, by comparing the expected shift in mean temperature within the geographic range of 7193 species of amphibians worldwide, under alternative warming scenarios. Expected evolutionary change is expressed in units of standard deviations of mean temperature, per generation (Haldanes) and compared with theoretical models defining the maximum sustainable evolutionary rates (MSER) for each species. For the pessimistic emission scenario RCP8.5, shifts in mean temperature vary between near-zero and 6°C within the geographic ranges for most species, with a median equal to 3.75°C. The probability of evolutionary rescue in temperature peaks is higher than 0.05 for about 55% of the species and higher than 0.95 for only 12% of the species. Therefore, the predicted shift in mean temperature would be too extreme to deal with for almost half of the species. When evolutionary plasticity is incorporated, this scenario becomes more optimistic, with about 44% of the species being likely to shift their thermal peaks tracking future warming. These figures are not random in geographical space: evolutionary rescue would be unlikely in the tropics, especially in South America (Amazonia), parts of Africa, Indonesia, and in the Mediterranean region. Given the uncertainty in demographic and genetic parameters for species’ responses to climate change, we caution that it remains difficult to assess the realism of the macroecological generalization. In any case, it may be precautionary to assume that our results are not liberal, showing low probability of adaptation for most of the species and thus that the persistence of populations by evolutionary rescue may, in general, be unlikely in the long term.

Bucking the trend: the diversity of Anthropocene ‘winners’ among British moths

An appreciation of how some species are becoming more common despite unprecedented anthropogenic pressures could offer key insights for mitigating the global biodiversity crisis.  Research to date has largely focused on declining species, while species that are becoming more common have received relatively little attention. Macro-moths in Great Britain are well-studied and species-rich, making them an ideal group for addressing this knowledge gap. Here, we examine changes in 51 successful species between 1968 and 2016 using 4.5 million occurrence records and a systematic monitoring dataset. We employ 3D graphical analysis to visualise long-term multidimensional trends in prevalence (abundance and range) and use vector autoregression models to test whether past values of local abundance are useful for predicting changes in the extent of occurrence. The responses of Anthropocene winners are heterogeneous, suggesting multiple drivers are responsible. Changes in range and local abundance frequently occur intermittently through time, demonstrating the value of long-term, continuous monitoring. There is significant diversity among the winners themselves, which include widespread generalists, habitat specialists, and recent colonists. We offer brief discussion of possible causal factors and the wider ecosystem implications of these trends.

  • 1 supplemental PDF
  • 3 supplemental ZIPs

Opinions, Perspectives & Reviews

The importance of defining measures of stability in macroecology and biogeography

Stability, the continuity of environments or habitats through space and time, is a widely used concept in macroecology and biogeography and is often invoked in studies attempting to explain the uneven spatial distribution of biodiversity. Stability can be measured in various ways and at various spatiotemporal scales; however, few studies explicitly define their use of the term. This makes interpreting and comparing studies difficult. We suggest an integrated approach to defining measures of stability in macroecology and biogeography. This approach addresses five key challenges concerning the biological, environmental and spatiotemporal scales at which stability is assessed, and how the complexity of change across time and space is summarised into a metric of stability. Using this approach allows for clarity around the choice, conceptualisation, communication and comparison of measures of stability.

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