New Guinea is the world's largest tropical island and has fascinated naturalists for centuries1,2. Home to some of the best-preserved ecosystems on the planet3 and to intact ecological gradients-from mangroves to tropical alpine grasslands-that are unmatched in the Asia-Pacific region4,5, it is a globally recognized centre of biological and cultural diversity6,7. So far, however, there has been no attempt to critically catalogue the entire vascular plant diversity of New Guinea. Here we present the first, to our knowledge, expert-verified checklist of the vascular plants of mainland New Guinea and surrounding islands. Our publicly available checklist includes 13,634 species (68% endemic), 1,742 genera and 264 families-suggesting that New Guinea is the most floristically diverse island in the world. Expert knowledge is essential for building checklists in the digital era: reliance on online taxonomic resources alone would have inflated species counts by 22%. Species discovery shows no sign of levelling off, and we discuss steps to accelerate botanical research in the 'Last Unknown'8.
The sequencing of ancient DNA has enabled the reconstruction of speciation, migration and admixture events for extinct taxa1. However, the irreversible post-mortem degradation2 of ancient DNA has so far limited its recovery-outside permafrost areas-to specimens that are not older than approximately 0.5 million years (Myr)3. By contrast, tandem mass spectrometry has enabled the sequencing of approximately 1.5-Myr-old collagen type I4, and suggested the presence of protein residues in fossils of the Cretaceous period5-although with limited phylogenetic use6. In the absence of molecular evidence, the speciation of several extinct species of the Early and Middle Pleistocene epoch remains contentious. Here we address the phylogenetic relationships of the Eurasian Rhinocerotidae of the Pleistocene epoch7-9, using the proteome of dental enamel from a Stephanorhinus tooth that is approximately 1.77-Myr old, recovered from the archaeological site of Dmanisi (South Caucasus, Georgia)10. Molecular phylogenetic analyses place this Stephanorhinus as a sister group to the clade formed by the woolly rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis) and Merck's rhinoceros (Stephanorhinus kirchbergensis). We show that Coelodonta evolved from an early Stephanorhinus lineage, and that this latter genus includes at least two distinct evolutionary lines. The genus Stephanorhinus is therefore currently paraphyletic, and its systematic revision is needed. We demonstrate that sequencing the proteome of Early Pleistocene dental enamel overcomes the limitations of phylogenetic inference based on ancient collagen or DNA. Our approach also provides additional information about the sex and taxonomic assignment of other specimens from Dmanisi. Our findings reveal that proteomic investigation of ancient dental enamel-which is the hardest tissue in vertebrates11, and is highly abundant in the fossil record-can push the reconstruction of molecular evolution further back into the Early Pleistocene epoch, beyond the currently known limits of ancient DNA preservation.
Humanity will soon define a new era for nature-one that seeks to transform decades of underwhelming responses to the global biodiversity crisis. Area-based conservation efforts, which include both protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, are likely to extend and diversify. However, persistent shortfalls in ecological representation and management effectiveness diminish the potential role of area-based conservation in stemming biodiversity loss. Here we show how the expansion of protected areas by national governments since 2010 has had limited success in increasing the coverage across different elements of biodiversity (ecoregions, 12,056 threatened species, 'Key Biodiversity Areas' and wilderness areas) and ecosystem services (productive fisheries, and carbon services on land and sea). To be more successful after 2020, area-based conservation must contribute more effectively to meeting global biodiversity goals-ranging from preventing extinctions to retaining the most-intact ecosystems-and must better collaborate with the many Indigenous peoples, community groups and private initiatives that are central to the successful conservation of biodiversity. The long-term success of area-based conservation requires parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity to secure adequate financing, plan for climate change and make biodiversity conservation a far stronger part of land, water and sea management policies.
Fish and other aquatic foods (blue foods) present an opportunity for more sustainable diets1,2. Yet comprehensive comparison has been limited due to sparse inclusion of blue foods in environmental impact studies3,4 relative to the vast diversity of production5. Here we provide standardized estimates of greenhouse gas, nitrogen, phosphorus, freshwater and land stressors for species groups covering nearly three quarters of global production. We find that across all blue foods, farmed bivalves and seaweeds generate the lowest stressors. Capture fisheries predominantly generate greenhouse gas emissions, with small pelagic fishes generating lower emissions than all fed aquaculture, but flatfish and crustaceans generating the highest. Among farmed finfish and crustaceans, silver and bighead carps have the lowest greenhouse gas, nitrogen and phosphorus emissions, but highest water use, while farmed salmon and trout use the least land and water. Finally, we model intervention scenarios and find improving feed conversion ratios reduces stressors across all fed groups, increasing fish yield reduces land and water use by up to half, and optimizing gears reduces capture fishery emissions by more than half for some groups. Collectively, our analysis identifies high-performing blue foods, highlights opportunities to improve environmental performance, advances data-poor environmental assessments, and informs sustainable diets.
The amount of carbon stored in deadwood is equivalent to about 8 per cent of the global forest carbon stocks1. The decomposition of deadwood is largely governed by climate2-5 with decomposer groups-such as microorganisms and insects-contributing to variations in the decomposition rates2,6,7. At the global scale, the contribution of insects to the decomposition of deadwood and carbon release remains poorly understood7. Here we present a field experiment of wood decomposition across 55 forest sites and 6 continents. We find that the deadwood decomposition rates increase with temperature, and the strongest temperature effect is found at high precipitation levels. Precipitation affects the decomposition rates negatively at low temperatures and positively at high temperatures. As a net effect-including the direct consumption by insects and indirect effects through interactions with microorganisms-insects accelerate the decomposition in tropical forests (3.9% median mass loss per year). In temperate and boreal forests, we find weak positive and negative effects with a median mass loss of 0.9 per cent and -0.1 per cent per year, respectively. Furthermore, we apply the experimentally derived decomposition function to a global map of deadwood carbon synthesized from empirical and remote-sensing data, obtaining an estimate of 10.9 ± 3.2 petagram of carbon per year released from deadwood globally, with 93 per cent originating from tropical forests. Globally, the net effect of insects may account for 29 per cent of the carbon flux from deadwood, which suggests a functional importance of insects in the decomposition of deadwood and the carbon cycle.
High-quality and complete reference genome assemblies are fundamental for the application of genomics to biology, disease, and biodiversity conservation. However, such assemblies are available for only a few non-microbial species1-4. To address this issue, the international Genome 10K (G10K) consortium5,6 has worked over a five-year period to evaluate and develop cost-effective methods for assembling highly accurate and nearly complete reference genomes. Here we present lessons learned from generating assemblies for 16 species that represent six major vertebrate lineages. We confirm that long-read sequencing technologies are essential for maximizing genome quality, and that unresolved complex repeats and haplotype heterozygosity are major sources of assembly error when not handled correctly. Our assemblies correct substantial errors, add missing sequence in some of the best historical reference genomes, and reveal biological discoveries. These include the identification of many false gene duplications, increases in gene sizes, chromosome rearrangements that are specific to lineages, a repeated independent chromosome breakpoint in bat genomes, and a canonical GC-rich pattern in protein-coding genes and their regulatory regions. Adopting these lessons, we have embarked on the Vertebrate Genomes Project (VGP), an international effort to generate high-quality, complete reference genomes for all of the roughly 70,000 extant vertebrate species and to help to enable a new era of discovery across the life sciences.
Despite contributing to healthy diets for billions of people, aquatic foods are often undervalued as a nutritional solution because their diversity is often reduced to the protein and energy value of a single food type ('seafood' or 'fish')1-4. Here we create a cohesive model that unites terrestrial foods with nearly 3,000 taxa of aquatic foods to understand the future impact of aquatic foods on human nutrition. We project two plausible futures to 2030: a baseline scenario with moderate growth in aquatic animal-source food (AASF) production, and a high-production scenario with a 15-million-tonne increased supply of AASFs over the business-as-usual scenario in 2030, driven largely by investment and innovation in aquaculture production. By comparing changes in AASF consumption between the scenarios, we elucidate geographic and demographic vulnerabilities and estimate health impacts from diet-related causes. Globally, we find that a high-production scenario will decrease AASF prices by 26% and increase their consumption, thereby reducing the consumption of red and processed meats that can lead to diet-related non-communicable diseases5,6 while also preventing approximately 166 million cases of inadequate micronutrient intake. This finding provides a broad evidentiary basis for policy makers and development stakeholders to capitalize on the potential of aquatic foods to reduce food and nutrition insecurity and tackle malnutrition in all its forms.
Whole-genome sequencing projects are increasingly populating the tree of life and characterizing biodiversity1-4. Sparse taxon sampling has previously been proposed to confound phylogenetic inference5, and captures only a fraction of the genomic diversity. Here we report a substantial step towards the dense representation of avian phylogenetic and molecular diversity, by analysing 363 genomes from 92.4% of bird families-including 267 newly sequenced genomes produced for phase II of the Bird 10,000 Genomes (B10K) Project. We use this comparative genome dataset in combination with a pipeline that leverages a reference-free whole-genome alignment to identify orthologous regions in greater numbers than has previously been possible and to recognize genomic novelties in particular bird lineages. The densely sampled alignment provides a single-base-pair map of selection, has more than doubled the fraction of bases that are confidently predicted to be under conservation and reveals extensive patterns of weak selection in predominantly non-coding DNA. Our results demonstrate that increasing the diversity of genomes used in comparative studies can reveal more shared and lineage-specific variation, and improve the investigation of genomic characteristics. We anticipate that this genomic resource will offer new perspectives on evolutionary processes in cross-species comparative analyses and assist in efforts to conserve species.
Much remains unknown about the population history of early modern humans in southeast Asia, where the archaeological record is sparse and the tropical climate is inimical to the preservation of ancient human DNA1. So far, only two low-coverage pre-Neolithic human genomes have been sequenced from this region. Both are from mainland Hòabìnhian hunter-gatherer sites: Pha Faen in Laos, dated to 7939-7751 calibrated years before present (yr cal BP; present taken as AD 1950), and Gua Cha in Malaysia (4.4-4.2 kyr cal BP)1. Here we report, to our knowledge, the first ancient human genome from Wallacea, the oceanic island zone between the Sunda Shelf (comprising mainland southeast Asia and the continental islands of western Indonesia) and Pleistocene Sahul (Australia-New Guinea). We extracted DNA from the petrous bone of a young female hunter-gatherer buried 7.3-7.2 kyr cal BP at the limestone cave of Leang Panninge2 in South Sulawesi, Indonesia. Genetic analyses show that this pre-Neolithic forager, who is associated with the 'Toalean' technocomplex3,4, shares most genetic drift and morphological similarities with present-day Papuan and Indigenous Australian groups, yet represents a previously unknown divergent human lineage that branched off around the time of the split between these populations approximately 37,000 years ago5. We also describe Denisovan and deep Asian-related ancestries in the Leang Panninge genome, and infer their large-scale displacement from the region today.