Aim To test the hypothesis that continental drift drives diversification of organisms through vicariance, we selected a group of primitive arachnids which originated before the break-up of Pangaea and currently inhabits all major landmasses with the exception of Antarctica, but lacks the ability to disperse across oceanic barriers.
Location Major continental temperate to tropical landmasses (North America, South America, Eurasia, Africa, Australia) and continental islands (Bioko, Borneo, Japan, Java, New Caledonia, New Guinea, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Sulawesi, Sumatra).
Methods Five kb of sequence data from five gene regions for more than 100 cyphophthalmid exemplars were analysed phylogenetically using different methods, including direct optimization under parsimony and maximum likelihood under a broad set of analytical parameters. We also used geological calibration points to estimate gross phylogenetic time divergences.
Results Our analyses show that all families except the Laurasian Sironidae are monophyletic and adhere to clear biogeographical patterns. Pettalidae is restricted to temperate Gondwana, Neogoveidae to tropical Gondwana, Stylocellidae to Southeast Asia, and Troglosironidae to New Caledonia. Relationships between the families inhabiting these landmasses indicate that New Caledonia is related to tropical Gondwana instead of to the Australian portion of temperate Gondwana. The results also concur with a Gondwanan origin of Florida, as supported by modern geological data.
Main conclusions By studying a group of organisms with not only an ancient origin, low vagility and restricted habitats, but also a present global distribution, we have been able to test biogeographical hypotheses at a scale rarely attempted. Our results strongly support the presence of a circum-Antarctic clade of formerly temperate Gondwanan species, a clade restricted to tropical Gondwana and a Southeast Asian clade that originated from a series of early Gondwanan terranes that rifted off northwards from the Devonian to the Triassic and accreted to tropical Laurasia. The relationships among the Laurasian species remain more obscure.