The voice of historical biogeography



Historical biogeography is going through an extraordinary revolution concerning its foundations, basic concepts, methods, and relationships to other disciplines of comparative biology. There are external and internal forces that are shaping the present of historical biogeography. The external forces are: global tectonics as the dominant paradigm in geosciences, cladistics as the basic language of comparative biology and the biologist’s perception of biogeography. The internal forces are: the proliferation of competing articulations, recourse to philosophy and the debate over fundamentals. The importance of the geographical dimension of life’s diversity to any understanding of the history of life on earth is emphasized. Three different kinds of processes that modify the geographical spatial arrangement of the organisms are identified: extinction, dispersal and vicariance. Reconstructing past biogeographic events can be done from three different perspectives: (1) the distribution of individual groups (taxon biogeography) (2) areas of endemism (area biogeography), and (3) biotas (spatial homology). There are at least nine basic historical biogeographic approaches: centre of origin and dispersal, panbiogeography, phylogenetic biogeography, cladistic biogeography, phylogeography, parsimony analysis of endemicity, event-based methods, ancestral areas, and experimental biogeography. These nine approaches contain at least 30 techniques (23 of them have been proposed in the last 14 years). The whole practice and philosophy of biogeography depend upon the development of a coherent and comprehensive conceptual framework for handling the distribution of organisms and events in space.