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Use of dispersal–vicariance analysis in biogeography – a critique
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Zoology.
2010 (English)In: Journal of Biogeography, ISSN 0305-0270, E-ISSN 1365-2699, Vol. 37, 3-11 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Aim Analytical methods are commonly used to identify historical processes of vicariance and dispersal in the evolution of taxa. Currently, dispersal-vicariance analysis implemented in the software diva is the most widely used method. Despite some recognized shortcomings of the method, it has been treated as error-free in many cases and used extensively as the sole method to reconstruct histories of taxa. In light of this, an evaluation of the limitations of the method is needed, especially in relation to several newer alternatives. Methods In an approach similar to simulation studies in phylogenetics, I use hypothetical taxa evolving in specific geological scenarios and test how well diva reconstructs their histories. Results diva reconstructs histories accurately when evolution has been simple; that is, where speciation is driven mainly by vicariance. Ancestral areas are wrongly identified under several conditions, including complex patterns of dispersals and within-area speciation events. Several potentially serious drawbacks in using diva for inferences in biogeography are discussed. These include the inability to distinguish between contiguous range expansions and across-barrier dispersals, a low probability of invoking extinctions, incorrect constraints set on the maximum number of areas by the user, and analysing the ingroup taxa without sister groups. Main conclusions Most problems with inferences based on diva are linked to the inflexibility and simplicity of the assumptions used in the method. These are frequently invalid, resulting in spurious reconstructions. I argue that it might be dangerous to rely solely on diva optimization to infer the history of a group. I also argue that diva is not ideally suited to distinguishing between dispersal and vicariance because it cannot a priori take into account the age of divergences relative to the timing of barrier formation. I suggest that other alternative methods can be used to corroborate the findings in diva, increasing the robustness of biogeographic hypotheses. I compare some important alternatives and conclude that model-based approaches are promising.


Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2010. Vol. 37, 3-11 p.
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-29536OAI: diva2:233966
Available from: 2009-09-03 Created: 2009-09-03 Last updated: 2011-01-10Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. The dispersal–vicariance pendulum and butterfly biogeography
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The dispersal–vicariance pendulum and butterfly biogeography
2009 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The relative importance of dispersal and vicariance in speciation is a subject of long standing debate. The earliest historical biogeographers invoked dispersal to explain disjunct distributions. With the advent of phylogenetic systematics and the acceptance of plate-tectonic theory, vicariance gained prominence and dispersalist explanations were increasingly rejected in favour of the former. This led to a new paradigm termed ‘vicariance biogeography’. The quintessence of vicariance biogeography is the consideration of vicariance as the null hypothesis in explanations of disjunct distributions. The notion of vicariance being the predominant force in allopatric speciation started gaining increasing acceptance in the biogeographic community. This also came to be reflected in analytical methods, many of which are biased towards vicariant inferences. However, the recent past has seen this vicariance-dominated view being confronted by a suite of studies demonstrating that dispersal has played a vital role in speciation and is equally important, if not more. In this thesis, I have studied the historical biogeography of nymphalid butterflies (Family Nymphalidae) in the genus Junonia and two subtribes - Coenonymphina and Mycalesina. Junonia is found in all major zoogeographic regions apart from the Palaearctic. Coenonymphina is found in the Holarctic, Neotropical and Australasian regions. Mycalesina is found all over the Old World tropics. The results in the thesis indicate that dispersal has played a crucial role in the diversification of these groups, while there is little evidence for vicariance in any group. I also critique Dispersal-Vicariance analysis, the widely used analytical method in historical biogeography that is based on the principle of parsimony. I use simulated data to highlight various sources of error when using the method, and suggest ways that may help increase the realism of biogeographic inferences.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Zoology, Stockholm University, 2009. 12 p.
Junonia, Coenonympha, Coenonymphina, Mycalesina, historical biogeography, vicariance, dispersal, DIVA
National Category
Natural Sciences
Research subject
Animal Ecology
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-29505 (URN)978-91-7155-936-4 (ISBN)
Public defence
2009-10-09, Lilla hörsalen, Naturhistoriska riksmuseet, Frescativägen 40, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
At the time of the doctoral defense, the following papers were unpublished and had a status as follows: Paper 3: Manuscript. Paper 4: In press. Paper 5: In press.Available from: 2009-09-17 Created: 2009-09-02 Last updated: 2009-09-04Bibliographically approved

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