- Crawford Laboratory for Evolutionary Studies, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada
- Evolutionary Ecology, Evolutionary Theory, Human Evolution, Macroevolution, Phylogenetics / Phylogenomics, Phylogeography & Biogeography, Speciation
Range size dynamics can explain why evolutionarily age and diversification rate correlate with contemporary extinction risk in plants
Are both very young and the very old plant lineages at heightened risk of extinction?
Human economic activity is responsible for the vast majority of ongoing extinction, but that does not mean lineages are being affected willy-nilly. For amphibians  and South African flowering plants , young species have a somewhat higher than expected chance of being threatened with extinction. In contrast, older Australian marsupial lineages seem to be more at risk . Both of the former studies suggested that situations leading to peripheral isolation might simultaneously increase ongoing speciation and current threat via small geographic range, while the authors of the latter study suggested that older species might have evolved increasingly narrow niches. Here, Andrew Tanentzap and colleagues  dig deeper into the putative links between species age, niche breadth and threat status. Across 500-some plant genera worldwide, they find that, indeed, ""younger"" species (i.e. from younger and faster-diversifying genera) were more likely to be listed as imperiled by the IUCN, consistent with patterns for amphibians and African plants. Given this, results from their finer-level analyses of conifers are initially bemusing: here, ""older"" (i.e., on longer terminal branches) species were at higher risk. This would make conifers more like Australian marsupials, with the rest of the plants being more like amphibians. However, here where the data were more finely grained, the authors detected a second interesting pattern: using an intriguing matched-pair design, they detect a signal of conifer species niches seemingly shrinking as a function of age. The authors interpret this as consistent with increasing specialization, or loss of ancestral warm wet habitat, over paleontological time. It is true that conifers in general are older than plants more generally, with some species on branches that extend back many 10s of millions of years, and so a general loss of suitable habitat makes some sense. If so, both the pattern for all plants (small initial ranges heightening extinction) and the pattern for conifers (eventual increasing specialization or habitat contraction heightening extinction) could occur, each on a different time scale. As a coda, the authors detected no effect of age on threat status in palms; however, this may be both because palms have already lost species to climate-change induced extinction, and because they are thought to speciate more via long-distance dispersal and adaptive divergence then via peripheral isolation.
Given how quickly ranges can change, how hard it is to measure niche breadth, and the qualitatively different time scales governing past diversification and present-day extinction drivers, this is surely not the last word on the subject, even for plants. However, even the hint of a link between drivers of extinction in the Anthropocene and drivers of diversification through the ages is intellectually exciting and, perhaps, even, somehow, of practical importance.
 Greenberg, D. A., & Mooers, A. Ø. (2017). Linking speciation to extinction: Diversification raises contemporary extinction risk in amphibians. Evolution Letters, 1, 40–48. doi: 10.1002/evl3.4
 Davies, T. J., Smith, G. F., Bellstedt, D. U., Boatwright, J. S., Bytebier, B., Cowling, R. M., Forest, F., et al. (2011). Extinction risk and diversification are linked in a plant biodiversity hotspot. PLoS Biology, 9:e1000620. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1000620
 Johnson, C. N., Delean S., & Balmford, A. (2002). Phylogeny and the selectivity of extinction in Australian marsupials. Animal Conservation, 5, 135–142. doi: 10.1017/S1367943002002196
 Tanentzap, A. J., Igea, J., Johnston, M. G., & Larcombe, M. G. (2018). Range size dynamics can explain why evolutionarily age and diversification rate correlate with contemporary extinction risk in plants. bioRxiv, 152215, ver. 5 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Evol Biol. doi: 10.1101/152215
Ancient tropical extinctions contributed to the latitudinal diversity gradient
One (more) step towards a dynamic view of the Latitudinal Diversity Gradient
The Latitudinal Diversity Gradient (LDG) has fascinated natural historians, ecologists and evolutionary biologists ever since  described it about 200 years ago . Despite such interest, agreement on the origin and nature of this gradient has been elusive. Several tens of hypotheses and models have been put forward as explanations for the LDG [2-3], that can be grouped in ecological, evolutionary and historical explanations  (see also ). These explanations can be reduced to no less than 26 hypotheses, which account for variations in ecological limits for the establishment of progressively larger assemblages, diversification rates, and time for species accumulation . Besides that, although in general the tropics hold more species, different taxa show different shapes and rates of spatial variation , and a considerable number of groups show reverse patterns, with richer assemblages in cold temperate regions (see e.g. [7-9]).
Understanding such complexity needs integrating ecological and evolutionary research into the wide temporal and spatial perspectives provided by the burgeoning field of biogeography. This integrative discipline ¬–that traces back to Humboldt himself (e.g. )– seeks to put together historical and functional explanations to explain the complex dynamics of Earth’s biodiversity. Different to quantum physicists, biogeographers cannot pursue the ultimate principle behind the patterns we observe in nature due to the interplay of causes and effects, which in fact tell us that there is not such a single principle. Rather, they need to identify an array of basic principles coming from different perspectives, to then integrate them into models that provide realistic –but never simple– explanations to biodiversity gradients such as LDG (see, e.g., [5; 11]). That is, rather than searching for a sole explanation, research on the LDG must aim to identify as many signals hidden in the pattern as possible, and provide hypotheses or models that account for these signals. To later integrate them and, whenever possible, to validate them with empirical data on the organisms’ distribution, ecology and traits, phylogenies, fossils, etc.
Within this context, Meseguer & Condamine  provide a novel perspective to LDG research using phylogenetic and fossil evidence on the origin and extinction of taxa within the turtle, crocodile and lizard (i.e. squamate) lineages. By digging into deep time down to the Triassic (about 250 Myr ago) they are able to identify several episodes of flattening and steepening of the LDG for these three clades. Strikingly, their results show similar diversification rates in the northern hemisphere and in the equator during the over 100 Myr long global greenhouse period that extends from the late Jurassic to the Cretaceous and early Neogene. During this period, the LDG for these three groups would have appeared quite even across a mainly tropical Globe, although the equatorial regions were apparently much more evolutionarily dynamic. The equator shows much higher rates of origination and extinction of branches throughout the Cretaceous, but they counteract each other so net diversification is similar to that of the northern hemisphere in all three groups. The transition to a progressively colder Earth in the Paleogene (starting around 50 Myr ago) provokes a mass extinction in the three clades, which is compensated in the equator by the dispersal of many taxa from the areas that currently pertain to the Holarctic biogeographical realm. Finally, during the coldhouse Earth’s climatic conditions of the Neogene only squamates show significant positive diversification rates in extratropical areas, while the diversity of testudines remains, and crocodiles continue declining progressively towards oblivion in the whole world.
Meseguer & Condamine  attribute these temporal patterns to the so-called asymmetric gradient of extinction and dispersal (AGED) framework. Here, the dynamics of extinction-at and dispersal-from high latitudes during colder periods increase the steepness of the LDG. Whereas the gradient flattens when Earth warms up as a result of dispersal from the equator followed by increased diversification in extratropical regions. This idea in itself is not new, for the influence of climatic oscillations on diversification rates is well known, at least for the Pleistocene Ice Ages , as is the effect of niche conservatism on the LDG . Nevertheless, Meseguer & Condamine’s AGED provides a synthetic verbal model that could allow integrating the three main types of processes behind the LDG into a single framework. To do this it would be necessary to combine AGED’s cycles of dispersal and diversification with realistic models of: (1) the ecological limits to host rich assemblages in the colder and less productive temperate climatic domains; (2) the variations in diversification rates with shifts in temperature and/or energy regimes; and (3) the geographical patterns of climatic oscillation through time that determine the time for species accumulation in each region.
Integrating these models may allow transposing Meseguer & Condamine’s  framework into the more mechanistic macroecological models advocated by Pontarp et al. . This type of mechanistic models has been already used to understand the development of biodiversity gradients through the climatic oscillations of the Pleistocene and the Quaternary (e.g. ). So the challenge in this case would be to generate a realistic scenario of geographical dynamics that accounts for plate tectonics and long-term climatic oscillations. This is still a major gap and we would benefit from the integrated work by historical geologists and climatologists here. For instance, there is little doubt about the progressive cooling through the Cenozoic based in isotope recording in sea floor sediments . Meseguer & Condamine  use this evidence for separating greenhouse, transition and coldhouse world scenarios, which should not be a problem for these rough classes. However, a detailed study of the evolutionary correlation of true climate variables across the tree of life is still pending, as temperature is inferred only for sea water in an ice-free ocean, say earlier half of the Cenozoic . Precipitation regime is even less known. Such scenario would provide a scaffold upon which the temporal dynamics of several aspects of the generation and loss of biodiversity can be modelled. Additionally, one of the great advantages of selecting key clades to study the LDG would be to determine the functional basis of diversification. There are species traits that are well known to affect speciation and extinction probabilities, such as reproductive strategies or life histories (e.g. ). Whereas these traits might also be a somewhat redundant effect of climatic causes, they might foster (i.e. “extended reinforcement”, ) or slow diversification. Even so, it is unlikely that such a model would account for all the latitudinal variation in species richness. But it will at least provide a baseline for the main latitudinal variations in the diversity of the regional communities (sensu ) worldwide. Within this context the effects of recent ecological, evolutionary and historical processes, such as environmental heterogeneity, current diversification rates or glacial cycles, will only modify the general LDG pattern resulting from the main processes contained in Meseguer & Condamine’s AGED, thereby providing a more comprehensive understanding of the geographical gradients of diversity.
 Humboldt, A. v. (1808). Ansichten der Natur, mit wissenschaftlichen Erläuterungen. J. G. Cotta, Tübingen.
 Hawkins, B. A. (2001). Ecology's oldest pattern? Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 16, 470. doi: 10.1016/S0169-5347(01)02197-8
 Lomolino, M. V., Riddle, B. R. & Whittaker, R. J. (2017). Biogeography. Fifth Edition. Sinauer Associates, Inc., Sunderland, Massachussets.
 Mittelbach, G. G., Schemske, D. W., Cornell, H. V., Allen, A. P., Brown, J. M., Bush, M. B., Harrison, S. P., Hurlbert, A. H., Knowlton, N., Lessios, H. A., McCain, C. M., McCune, A. R., McDade, L. A., McPeek, M. A., Near, T. J., Price, T. D., Ricklefs, R. E., Roy, K., Sax, D. F., Schluter, D., Sobel, J. M. & Turelli, M. (2007). Evolution and the latitudinal diversity gradient: speciation, extinction and biogeography. Ecology Letters, 10, 315-331. doi: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2007.01020.x
 Pontarp, M., Bunnefeld L., Cabral, J. S., Etienne, R. S., Fritz, S. A., Gillespie, R. Graham, C. H., Hagen, O., Hartig, F., Huang, S., Jansson, R., Maliet, O., Münkemüller, T., Pellissier, L., Rangel, T. F., Storch, D., Wiegand, T. & Hurlbert, A. H. (2019). The latitudinal diversity gradient: novel understanding through mechanistic eco-evolutionary models. Trends in ecology & evolution, 34, 211-223. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2018.11.009
 Hillebrand, H. (2004). On the generality of the latitudinal diversity gradient. The American Naturalist, 163, 192-211. doi: 10.1086/381004
 Santos, A. M. C. & Quicke, D. L. J. (2011). Large-scale diversity patterns of parasitoid insects. Entomological Science, 14, 371-382. doi: 10.1111/j.1479-8298.2011.00481.x
 Morinière, J., Van Dam, M. H., Hawlitschek, O., Bergsten, J., Michat, M. C., Hendrich, L., Ribera, I., Toussaint, E. F. A. & Balke, M. (2016). Phylogenetic niche conservatism explains an inverse latitudinal diversity gradient in freshwater arthropods. Scientific Reports, 6, 26340. doi: 10.1038/srep26340
 Weiser, M. D., Swenson, N. G., Enquist, B. J., Michaletz, S. T., Waide, R. B., Zhou, J. & Kaspari, M. (2018). Taxonomic decomposition of the latitudinal gradient in species diversity of North American floras. Journal of Biogeography, 45, 418-428. doi: 10.1111/jbi.13131
 Humboldt, A. v. (1805). Essai sur la geographie des plantes; accompagné d'un tableau physique des régions equinoxiales. Levrault, Paris.
 Rangel, T. F., Edwards, N. R., Holden, P. B., Diniz-Filho, J. A. F., Gosling, W. D., Coelho, M. T. P., Cassemiro, F. A. S., Rahbek, C. & Colwell, R. K. (2018). Modeling the ecology and evolution of biodiversity: Biogeographical cradles, museums, and graves. Science, 361, eaar5452. doi: 10.1126/science.aar5452
 Meseguer, A. S. & Condamine, F. L. (2019). Ancient tropical extinctions contributed to the latitudinal diversity gradient. bioRxiv, 236646, ver. 4 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Evol Biol. doi: 10.1101/236646
 Jansson, R., & Dynesius, M. (2002). The fate of clades in a world of recurrent climatic change: Milankovitch oscillations and evolution. Annual review of ecology and systematics, 33(1), 741-777. doi: 10.1146/annurev.ecolsys.33.010802.150520
 Wiens, J. J., & Donoghue, M. J. (2004). Historical biogeography, ecology and species richness. Trends in ecology & evolution, 19, 639-644. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2004.09.011
 Zachos, J. C., Dickens, G. R., & Zeebe, R. E. (2008). An early Cenozoic perspective on greenhouse warming and carbon-cycle dynamics. Nature, 451, 279-283. doi: 10.1038/nature06588
 Zúñiga-Vega, J. J., Fuentes-G, J. A., Ossip-Drahos, A. G., & Martins, E. P. (2016). Repeated evolution of viviparity in phrynosomatid lizards constrained interspecific diversification in some life-history traits. Biology letters, 12, 20160653. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2016.0653
 Butlin, R. K., & Smadja, C. M. (2018). Coupling, reinforcement, and speciation. The American Naturalist, 191, 155-172. doi: 10.1086/695136
 Ricklefs, R. E. (2015). Intrinsic dynamics of the regional community. Ecology letters, 18, 497-503. doi: 10.1111/ele.12431