• Bayesian analysis;
  • biogeography;
  • heteroplasmy;
  • hypothesis testing;
  • mitochondrial ribosomal DNA;
  • parametric bootstrapping

Abstract Previous hypotheses of phylogenetic relationships among Nearctic toads (Bufonidae) and their congeners suggest contradictory biogeographic histories. These hypotheses argue that the Nearctic Bufo are: (1) a polyphyletic assemblage resulting from multiple colonizations from Africa; (2) a paraphyletic assemblage resulting from a single colonization event from South America with subsequent dispersal into Eurasia; or (3) a monophyletic group derived from the Neotropics. We obtained approximately 2.5 kb of mitochondrial DNA sequence data for the 12S, 16S, and intervening valine tRNA gene from 82 individuals representing 56 species and used parametric bootstrapping to test hypotheses of the biogeographic history of the Nearctic Bufo. We find that the Nearctic species of Bufo are monophyletic and nested within a large clade of New World Bufo to the exclusion of Eurasian and African taxa. This suggests that Nearctic Bufo result from a single colonization from the Neotropics. More generally, we demonstrate the utility of parametric bootstrapping for testing alternative biogeographic hypotheses. Through parametric bootstrapping, we refute several previously published biogeographic hypotheses regarding Bufo. These previous studies may have been influenced by homoplasy in osteological characters. Given the Neotropical origin for Nearctic Bufo, we examine current distributional patterns to assess whether the Nearctic-Neotropical boundary is a broad transition zone or a narrow boundary. We also survey fossil and paleogeographic evidence to examine potential Tertiary and Cretaceous dispersal routes, including the Paleocene Isthmian Link, the Antillean and Aves Ridges, and the current Central American Land Bridge, that may have allowed colonization of the Nearctic.