DE NAVASCUÉS Miguel
- UMR CBGP, INRAE, Montpellier, France
- Adaptation, Bioinformatics & Computational Biology, Population Genetics / Genomics, Reproduction and Sex
How ancient forest fragmentation and riparian connectivity generate high levels of genetic diversity in a micro-endemic Malagasy tree
An ancient age of open-canopy landscapes in northern Madagascar? Evidence from the population genetic structure of a forest treeRecommended by Miguel de Navascués based on reviews by Yurena Arjona and Katharina Budde
We currently live in the Anthropocene, the geological age characterized by a profound impact of human populations in the ecosystems and the environment. While there is little doubt about the action of humans in the shaping of present landscapes, it can be difficult to determine what the state of those landscapes was before humans started to modify them. This is the case of the Madagascar grasslands, whose origins have been debated with arguments proposing them either as anthropogenic, created with the arrival of humans around 2000BP, or as ancient features of the natural landscape with a forest fragmentation process due to environmental changes pre-dating human arrival [e.g. 1,2]. One way to clarify this question is through the genetic study of native species. Population continuity and fragmentation along time shape the structure of the genetic diversity in space. Species living in a uniform continuous habitat are expected to show genetic structuring determined only by geographical distance. Recent changes of the habitat can take many generations to reshape that genetic structure . Thus, we expect genetic structure to reflect ancient features of the landscape.
The work by Jordi Salmona and collaborators  studies the factors determining the population genetic structure of the Malagasy spiny olive (Noronhia spinifolia). This narrow endemic species is distributed in the discontinuous forest patches of the Loky-Manambato region (northern Madagascar). Jordi Salmona and collaborators genotyped 72 individuals distributed across the species distribution with restriction associated DNA sequencing and organelle microsatellite markers. Then, they studied the population genetic structure of the species. Using isolation-by-resistance models , they tested the influence of several landscape features (forest cover, roads, rivers, slope, etc.) on the connectivity between populations. Maternally inherited loci (chloroplast and mitochondria) and bi-parentally inherited loci (nuclear), were analysed separately in an attempt to identify the role of pollen and seed dispersal in the connectivity of populations.
Despite the small distribution of the species, Jordi Salmona and collaborators  found remarkable levels of genetic diversity. The spatial structure of this diversity was found to be mainly explained by the forest cover of the landscape, suggesting that the landscape has been composed by patches of forests and grasslands for a long time. The main role of forest cover for the connectivity among populations also highlights the importance of riparian forest as dispersal corridors. Finally, differences between organelle and nuclear markers were not enough to establish any strong conclusion about the differences between pollen and seed dispersal.
The results presented by Jordi Salmona and collaborators  contribute to the understanding of the history and ecology of understudied Madagascar ecosystems. Previous population genetic studies in some forest-dwelling mammals have been interpreted as supporting an old age for the fragmented landscapes in northern Madagascar [e.g. 1,6]. To my knowledge, this is the first study on a tree species. While this work might not completely settle the debate, it emphasizes the importance of studying a diversity of species to understand the biogeographic dynamics of a region.
1. Quéméré, E., X. Amelot, J. Pierson, B. Crouau-Roy, L. Chikhi (2012) Genetic data suggest a natural prehuman origin of open habitats in northern Madagascar and question the deforestation narrative in this region. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of
America 109: 13028–13033. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1200153109
2. Joseph, G.S., C.L. Seymour (2020) Madagascan highlands: originally woodland and forest containing endemic grasses, not grazing-adapted grassland. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 287: 20201956. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2020.1956
3. Landguth, E.L., S.A. Cushman, M.K. Schwartz, K.S. McKelvey, M. Murphy, G. Luikart (2010) Quantifying the lag time to detect barriers in landscape genetics. Molecular Ecology 19: 4179–
4. Salmona J., Dresen A, Ranaivoson AE, Manzi S, Pors BL, Hong-Wa C, Razanatsoa J, Andriaholinirina NV, Rasoloharijaona S, Vavitsara M-E, Besnard G (2021) How ancient forest fragmentation and riparian connectivity generate high levels of genetic diversity in a micro-endemic Malagasy tree. bioRxiv, 2020.11.25.394544, ver. 4 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology. https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.11.25.394544
5. McRae, B.H. (2006) Isolation by resistance. Evolution 60: 1551–1561. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0014-3820.2006.tb00500.x
6. Rakotoarisoa J.-E., M. Raheriarisena, S.M. Goodman (2013) Late Quaternary climatic vegetational shifts in an ecological transition zone of northern Madagascar: insights from genetic analyses of two endemic rodent species. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 26: 1019–1034. https://doi.org/10.1111/jeb.12116
Phylogenomic approaches reveal how a climatic inversion and glacial refugia shape patterns of diversity in an African rain forest tree species
Remarkable insights into processes shaping African tropical tree diversityRecommended by Michael David Pirie based on reviews by Lars Chatrou, Miguel de Navascués and Oscar Vargas
Tropical biodiversity is immense, under enormous threat, and yet still poorly understood. Global climatic breakdown and habitat destruction are impacting on and removing this diversity before we can understand how the biota responds to such changes, or even fully appreciate what we are losing . This is particularly the case for woody shrubs and trees  and for the flora of tropical Africa .
Helmstetter et al.  have taken a significant step to improve our understanding of African tropical tree diversity in the context of past climatic change. They have done so by means of a remarkably in-depth analysis of one species of the tropical plant family Annonaceae: Annickia affinis . A. affinis shows a distribution pattern in Africa found in various plant (but interestingly not animal) groups: a discontinuity between north and south of the equator . There is no obvious physical barrier to cause this discontinuity, but it does correspond with present day distinct northern and southern rainy seasons. Various explanations have been proposed for this discontinuity, set out as hypotheses to be tested in this paper: climatic fluctuations resulting in changes in plant distributions in the Pleistocene, or differences in flowering times or in ecological niche between northerly and southerly populations. These explanations are not mutually exclusive, but they can be tested using phylogenetic inference – if you can sample variable enough sequence data from enough individuals – complemented with analysis of ecological niches and traits.
Using targeted sequence capture, the authors amassed a dataset representing 351 nuclear markers for 112 individuals of A. affinis. This dataset is impressive for a number of reasons: First, sampling such a species across such a wide range in tropical Africa presents numerous challenges of itself. Second, the technical achievement of using this still relatively new sequencing technique with a custom set of baits designed specifically for this plant family  is also considerable. The result is a volume of data that just a few years ago would not have been feasible to collect, and which now offers the possibility to meaningfully analyse DNA sequence variation within a species across numerous independent loci of the nuclear genome. This is the future of our research field, and the authors have ably demonstrated some of its possibilities.
Using this data, they performed on the one hand different population genetic clustering approaches, and on the other, different phylogenetic inference methods. I would draw attention to their use and comparison of coalescence and network-based approaches, which can account for the differences between gene trees that might be expected between populations of a single species. The results revealed four clades and a consistent sequence of divergences between them. The authors inferred past shifts in geographic range (using a continuous state phylogeographic model), depicting a biogeographic scenario involving a dispersal north over the north/south discontinuity; and demographic history, inferring in some (but not all) lineages increases in effective population size around the time of the last glacial maximum, suggestive of expansion from refugia. Using georeferenced specimen data, they compared ecological niches between populations, discovering that overlap was indeed smallest comparing north to south. Just the phenology results were effectively inconclusive: far better data on flowering times is needed than can currently be harvested from digitised herbarium specimens.
Overall, the results add to the body of evidence for the impact of Pleistocene climatic changes on population structure, and for niche differences contributing to the present day north/south discontinuity. However, they also paint a complex picture of idiosyncratic lineage-specific responses, even within a single species. With the increasing accessibility of the techniques used here we can look forward to more such detailed analyses of independent clades necessary to test and to expand on these conclusions, better to understand the nature of our tropical plant diversity while there is still opportunity to preserve it for future generations.
 Mace, G. M., Gittleman, J. L., and Purvis, A. (2003). Preserving the Tree of Life. Science, 300(5626), 1707–1709. doi: 10.1126/science.1085510
 Humphreys, A. M., Govaerts, R., Ficinski, S. Z., Nic Lughadha, E., and Vorontsova, M. S. (2019). Global dataset shows geography and life form predict modern plant extinction and rediscovery. Nature Ecology and Evolution, 3(7), 1043–1047. doi: 10.1038/s41559-019-0906-2
 Stévart, T., Dauby, G., Lowry, P. P., Blach-Overgaard, A., Droissart, V., Harris, D. J., Mackinder, B. A., Schatz, G. E., Sonké, B., Sosef, M. S. M., Svenning, J. C., Wieringa, J. J., and Couvreur, T. L. P. (2019). A third of the tropical African flora is potentially threatened with extinction. Science Advances, 5(11), eaax9444. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aax9444
 Helmstetter, A. J., Amoussou, B. E. N., Bethune, K., Kandem, N. G., Kakaï, R. G., Sonké, B., and Couvreur, T. L. P. (2020). Phylogenomic approaches reveal how a climatic inversion and glacial refugia shape patterns of diversity in an African rain forest tree species. BioRxiv, 807727, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Evolutionary Biology. doi: 10.1101/807727
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 Hardy, O. J., Born, C., Budde, K., Daïnou, K., Dauby, G., Duminil, J., Ewédjé, E.-E. B. K., Gomez, C., Heuertz, M., Koffi, G. K., Lowe, A. J., Micheneau, C., Ndiade-Bourobou, D., Piñeiro, R., and Poncet, V. (2013). Comparative phylogeography of African rain forest trees: A review of genetic signatures of vegetation history in the Guineo-Congolian region. Comptes Rendus Geoscience, 345(7), 284-296. doi: 10.1016/j.crte.2013.05.001
 Couvreur, T. L. P., Helmstetter, A. J., Koenen, E. J. M., Bethune, K., Brandão, R. D., Little, S. A., Sauquet, H., and Erkens, R. H. J. (2019). Phylogenomics of the Major Tropical Plant Family Annonaceae Using Targeted Enrichment of Nuclear Genes. Frontiers in Plant Science, 9. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2018.01941