Aim Three common patterns have emerged in comparative phylogeographic analyses at many barriers: (1) a potential geographic pseudocongruence of lineage divergences; (2) a disconnect between the inference of temporally clustered, relatively recent timing for observed speciation events, and dates spanning a broader, apparently random time-scale; and (3) an apparent prevalence of speciation with recent or continuing gene flow. It is unclear if there is a unifying explanation for these phenomena. We argue that the interaction between geographic barriers to dispersal and ecological limits on the distribution of species can explain these patterns. We suggest that these patterns can be explained by the presence of a continuum between two underlying processes, here termed ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ allopatric divergence, which result from the interplay between organismal ecology and the physioecological nature of geographic barriers.
Location Examples from North America.
Methods We examine comparative phylogeographic divergences in 18 groups of terrestrial vertebrates at two major biogeographic features in North America – the Mississippi River Embayment and the Cochise Filter Barrier – to test predictions made by this hypothesis.
Results We find support for the two distinct processes of hard and soft allopatry, and note several examples exhibiting characteristics of both. Hard allopatry is caused by physical barriers promoting divergence as a function of consistent geographic isolation. Soft allopatry is caused by ecological processes that isolate populations geographically in allopatric refugia through niche conservatism, or across ecological transition zones through niche divergence, but which may be periodic or inconsistent through time.
Main conclusions Viewing geographic speciation as a continuum between hard and soft allopatry can explain all three patterns as a consequence of the physical and ecological mechanisms that isolate populations, and provides an alternative perspective on the impact of ecological factors and physical barriers on lineage formation.