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Biogeography of the Antilles based on a parsimony analysis of orchid distributions


J. Carlos Trejo-Torres Department of Biology, University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras, PO BOX 23360, San Juan, Puerto Rico 00931-3360. E-mail:



We obtain biogeographical patterns based on the distributions of shared orchid species of the Caribbean. These patterns are used to define biogeographical zones. We then analyse the concordance between the distributional patterns with ecological and physical features of the islands.


We use orchid species recorded on 49 islands of the Greater, Lesser, and southern Antilles, and the Bahamas. Three continental areas are included: Florida (North America), the Yucatan (Central America), and the Guianas (South America).


We use a parsimonious analysis of species distributions that produces the best arrangements of shared taxa among areas. The analysis uses 356 shared orchid species of the 863 species recorded for studied areas. The methodology has been used to infer historical relationships among areas but we interpret the results as static or ecological patterns of biogeographical affinities.


Two kinds of island groupings are revealed. (1) Groups with common geology and geomorphology: the Bahama Archipelago, the Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands and the southern Dutch Antilles. (2) An aggregation of distant islands with a heterogeneous geology but a common physiography: the Greater Antilles/Trinidad/Lesser Antilles/Margarita-Tobago. The Guianas are linked with the Greater Antilles, while the Yucatan and Florida are linked to the Bahamas.

Main conclusions

Groupings of islands are congruent with their gross ecological features either from similar geomorphology or common physiography. The strong affinity among islands considerably distant among each other is explained by the high vagility of dust-seeded orchids. Then, floristic affinities seem determined by ecological characteristics of islands rather than by dispersal barriers. We predict that other plant groups with dust-like diaspores and animals with good vagility should show comparable biogeographic patterns. Parsimony analysis of distributions (PAD) is an alternative methodology to multivariate analysis to compare biotas, and a graphic complement to quantitative methods producing numerical values.