• Area cladistics;
  • comparative phylogeography;
  • historical biogeography;
  • vicariance

Phylogeography has become a powerful approach for elucidating contemporary geographical patterns of evolutionary subdivision within species and species complexes. A recent extension of this approach is the comparison of phylogeographic patterns of multiple co-distributed taxonomic groups, or ‘comparative phylogeography.’ Recent comparative phylogeographic studies have revealed pervasive and previously unrecognized biogeographic patterns which suggest that vicariance has played a more important role in the historical development of modern biotic assemblages than current taxonomy would indicate. Despite the utility of comparative phylogeography for uncovering such ‘cryptic vicariance’, this approach has yet to be embraced by some researchers as a valuable complement to other approaches to historical biogeography. We address here some of the common misconceptions surrounding comparative phylogeography, provide an example of this approach based on the boreal mammal fauna of North America, and argue that together with other approaches, comparative phylogeography can contribute importantly to our understanding of the relationship between earth history and biotic diversification.