Trends in Ecology & Evolution, Volume 20, Issue 2, 68-73, 1 February 2005
The resurrection of oceanic dispersal in historical biogeography
Alan de Queiroz
2695 Mineral Drive, Ely, NV 89301, USA
Map of the world covered in lines criss-crossing back and forth across oceans showing how many species must have traversed oceans to explain their distributions in locations unexpected by traditional biogeography
Geographical distributions of terrestrial or freshwater taxa that are broken up by oceans can be explained by either oceanic dispersal or vicariance in the form of fragmentation of a previously contiguous landmass. The validation of plate-tectonics theory provided a global vicariance mechanism and, along with cladistic arguments for the primacy of vicariance, helped create a view of oceanic dispersal as a rare phenomenon and an explanation of last resort. Here, I describe recent work that suggests that the importance of oceanic dispersal has been strongly underestimated. In particular, molecular dating of lineage divergences favors oceanic dispersal over tectonic vicariance as an explanation for disjunct distributions in a wide variety of taxa, from frogs to beetles to baobab trees. Other evidence, such as substantial gene flow among island populations of Anolis lizards, also indicates unexpectedly high frequencies of oceanic dispersal. The resurrection of oceanic dispersal is the most striking aspect of a major shift in historical biogeography toward a more even balance between vicariance and dispersal explanations. This new view implies that biotas are more dynamic and have more recent origins than had been thought previously. A high frequency of dispersal also suggests that a fundamental methodological assumption of many biogeographical studies – that vicariance is a priori a more probable explanation than dispersal – needs to be re-evaluated and perhaps discarded.