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Biogeography and Evolution. Leith Nye and Rachel Schmidt February 28, 2006. Biogeography. “ the study of what organisms live where on earth and why” (from Humphries and Parenti, 1999). A naturalist in Europe…. Carolus Linnaeus (1707–1778). From the Ark to Ararat. Bible (AD): Young Earth

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biogeography and evolution

Biogeography and Evolution

Leith Nye and Rachel Schmidt

February 28, 2006



“ the study of what organisms live where on earth and why”

(from Humphries and Parenti, 1999)

a naturalist in europe

A naturalist in Europe…

Carolus Linnaeus (1707–1778)

from the ark to ararat
From the Ark to Ararat

Bible (AD):

  • Young Earth
  • Single creation of perfect species
  • Origin: Mt. Ararat, Turkey where Ark landed

Linnaeus (1735):

  • Notes variation in form
  • Mountainous island center of origin theory

Possible remains of Noah’s Ark, Mt. Ararat

Linnaeus’s Mountainous Island Post Flood

buffon the visionary
Buffon the Visionary

Georges Buffon (1761)

  • Noted faunistic differences and similarities between regions of similar climate (“Buffon’s Law”)
  • Fossils, extinction, changes in species, climate and geography

Georges de Buffon ca. 1760

Map of Artic from Histoire Naturelle

continuing exploration
Continuing Exploration
  • Humboldt (1805)

Plant zonation, associations and biomes

  • Candolle (1820)

Coined term ‘endemic’

Defined ca. 20 regions of endemism

Disjunctions: bipolar and Africa-Austraila

Alexander von Humboldt

Augustin Pyrame de Candolle


What are patterns of distribution of species seen across the globe?

  • Geographical regions have characteristic biotas.
  • Similar/closely related taxa tend to be closer together than more distantly related groups.
  • Similar environments are found in different areas BUT the same species may not be found in all places where they could be!
  • Not closely related species in similar environments may appear similar due to convergence.

How else might we explain this distribution without biogeography principles??

What distributions would we expect to see WITHOUT macroevolution??

“In considering the distribution of organic beings over the face of the globe, the first great fact that strikes us is, that neither the similarity nor the dissimilarity of the inhabitants of various regions can be wholly accounted for by climatal and other physical conditions.”

Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

A reasonable nonevolutionary prediction is that species should occur wherever their habitat is. However, macroevolution predicts just the opposite — there should be many locations where a given species would thrive yet is not found there, due to geographical barriers.

Futuyma, D. (1998) Evolutionary Biology. Third edition. Sunderland, Mass., Sinauer Associates

the origin of species
The Origin of Species

Evidence: Geographical Distribution I and II

  • Regions with identical climate have different floras and faunas (Buffon’s Law).
  • Geographic barriers closely associated with breaks between taxonomic groups.
  • Within a region, organisms are often closely related even across environmental gradients and lower taxonomic groups often show narrower distributions than higher.
1 similar climate different taxa
1. Similar Climate, Different Taxa

Cactaceae in North American deserts

Euphorbiaceae in southern African deserts

Courtesy of K.J. Sytsma


Geographic Barriers and Distinct Biota

More similar marine biota

Very different marine biota

disjunctions a bur in darwin s saddle
Disjunctions: A Bur in Darwin’s Saddle

Darwin goes to great pains to show how disjunct patterns of species distributions can be explained through climate changes, geological changes and dispersal.


  • Same alpine species on mountains between and across continents result of cycles of glaciation and migration.
  • Similarity of freshwater fish species across continents due to flooding, twisters, birds, salt water tolerance etc.
  • Islands biota can be explained by dispersal and previous existence of now submerged island chains.
islands hawaii vs madagascar
Islands- Hawaii vs. Madagascar

“He who admits the doctrine of creation of each separate species, will have to admit that a sufficient number of the best adapted plants and animals were not created for oceanic islands, for man has unintentionally stocked them far more fully and perfectly than did nature.”

-Darwin, The Origin of Species

Courtesy of K.J. Sytsma

vicariance theory lacking mechanism
Vicariance Theory Lacking Mechanism

“Other authors have thus hypothetically bridged over every ocean and united almost every island with some mainland. If indeed the arguments used by Forbes are to be trusted, it must be admitted that scarcely a single island exists which has not recently been united to some continent. This view cuts the Gordian knot of the dispersal of the same species to the most distant points , and removes many a difficulty; but to the best of my judgement we are not authorized in admitting such enormous geographical changes within the period of existing species.”

Darwin, 1859

Courtesy of K.J. Sytsma

plate tectonics enter alfred wegener
Plate Tectonics…Enter Alfred Wegener

Wegener relied heavily on biogeographical evidence for defending his controversial continental drift theory

Glossopteris Permian – “fern”

Mesosaurus – Freshwater Permian Reptile


Lystrosaurus – Triassic land reptile

Courtesy of K.J. Sytsma


Three major patterns of dispersal/vicariance modality can be identified: 1) Cretaceous dispersal to Madagascar with ensuing distributions from India (and/or South Africa) across Antarctica to South America and Australo-E. Malesia during the time of the initial radiation of the angiosperms; 2) Eocene-Oligocene (and continuing to the present) dispersal to Madagascar (and Africa) from Laurasia and W. Malesia via India (pre- and post-collision with Asia) along "Lemurian Stepping-stones" in the western Indian Ocean; and 3) continuous (and recent) long distance dispersal (LDD) to Madagascar as a function of the prevailing easterly winds and Indian Ocean currents.

-G.E. Schatz, Malagasy/Indo-australomalesian Phytogeographic Connections


Two important scientific advances in the mid 20th century have revolutionized historical biogeography

1. Acceptance of plate tectonics

Up until the 1960s, most persons considered the earth's crust to be fixed. Finally, in the 1960s the geological evidence was at hand that made continental drift irrefutable.

2. Development of new phylogenetic methods

Willi Hennig (1950) introduced the modern concepts of phylogenetic theory (first published in 1956). Using this methodology, hypotheses of historical lineages of species could be reconstructed.

Species and Areas: History of Ideas

Courtesy of K.J. Sytsma

“We see in these facts some deep organic bond, throughout space and time, over the same areas of land and water, independently of physical conditions. The naturalist must be dull who is not led to inquire what that bond is . . . The bond is simple inheritance.”

Darwin, The Origin of Species



Cox, B.C. and P.D. Moore. 2005. Biogeography: An Ecological and Evolutionary Approach. Blackwell Publishing,

Malden, MA, USA.

Darwin, C. 1859. The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. John Murray, London, UK.

Humphries, C.J. and L.R. Parenti. 1999. Cladistic Biogeography: Interpreting Patterns of Plant and Animal Distributions. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

Johnson, W.E. et al. 2006. The late Miocene radiation of modern Felidae: A genetic assessment. Science 311:73-77.

Knox, E.B. and J.D. Palmer. 1995. Chloroplast DNA variation and the recent radiation of the giant senecios (Asteraceae) on tall mountains of eastern Africa. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 92: 10349-1-353.

Lomolino, M.V., D.F. Sax and J.H. Brown, editors. 2004. Foundations in Biogeography. The Unversity of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, USA.

Wegener, A. 1915. Die Enstehung der Kontinente und Ozeane. Sammlung Vieweg und Sohn, Braunschweig.

Whitfield,J. 2005. Biogeography: Is everything everywhere? Science 310:960-961.

International Institute for Aerospace Survey and Earth Sciences, Gondwana Animation: