Get access

An evaluation of new parsimony-based versus parametric inference methods in biogeography: a case study using the globally distributed plant family Sapindaceae


Sven Buerki, Molecular Systematics Section, Jodrell Laboratory, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3DS, UK and Isabel Sanmartín, Real Jardín Botánico – CSIC, Plaza de Murillo 2, 28014 Madrid, Spain.
E-mail: and


Aim  Recently developed parametric methods in historical biogeography allow researchers to integrate temporal and palaeogeographical information into the reconstruction of biogeographical scenarios, thus overcoming a known bias of parsimony-based approaches. Here, we compare a parametric method, dispersal–extinction–cladogenesis (DEC), against a parsimony-based method, dispersal–vicariance analysis (DIVA), which does not incorporate branch lengths but accounts for phylogenetic uncertainty through a Bayesian empirical approach (Bayes-DIVA). We analyse the benefits and limitations of each method using the cosmopolitan plant family Sapindaceae as a case study.

Location  World-wide.

Methods  Phylogenetic relationships were estimated by Bayesian inference on a large dataset representing generic diversity within Sapindaceae. Lineage divergence times were estimated by penalized likelihood over a sample of trees from the posterior distribution of the phylogeny to account for dating uncertainty in biogeographical reconstructions. We compared biogeographical scenarios between Bayes-DIVA and two different DEC models: one with no geological constraints and another that employed a stratified palaeogeographical model in which dispersal rates were scaled according to area connectivity across four time slices, reflecting the changing continental configuration over the last 110 million years.

Results  Despite differences in the underlying biogeographical model, Bayes-DIVA and DEC inferred similar biogeographical scenarios. The main differences were: (1) in the timing of dispersal events – which in Bayes-DIVA sometimes conflicts with palaeogeographical information, and (2) in the lower frequency of terminal dispersal events inferred by DEC. Uncertainty in divergence time estimations influenced both the inference of ancestral ranges and the decisiveness with which an area can be assigned to a node.

Main conclusions  By considering lineage divergence times, the DEC method gives more accurate reconstructions that are in agreement with palaeogeographical evidence. In contrast, Bayes-DIVA showed the highest decisiveness in unequivocally reconstructing ancestral ranges, probably reflecting its ability to integrate phylogenetic uncertainty. Care should be taken in defining the palaeogeographical model in DEC because of the possibility of overestimating the frequency of extinction events, or of inferring ancestral ranges that are outside the extant species ranges, owing to dispersal constraints enforced by the model. The wide-spanning spatial and temporal model proposed here could prove useful for testing large-scale biogeographical patterns in plants.