Mapping the suturing of a continental biota


Nathan G. Swenson, Fax: 517.353.1926; E-mail:


The present-day spatial distribution of interspecific contact zones and intraspecific phylogeographical breaks provides a window into the past ecological and evolutionary processes that underlie speciation and species ranges. The clustering of contact zones and/or phylogeographical breaks in space indicates the suturing of diverged biotas. The presence of such suture zones indicates that similar ecological and historical factors have influenced the past and present distributions of populations and their divergence. Thus, suture zones are ideal natural laboratories for studying divergence, secondary contact and speciation across many different taxa. The concept of suture zones was formalized decades ago by Remington (1968), but only a few detailed and quantitative investigations of suture zones exist (Swenson & Howard 2004, 2005; Whinnett et al. 2005; Moritz et al. 2009). This limited number of investigations is largely because of a lack of detailed geographical data and sophisticated analytical tools. In this issue of Molecular Ecology, Rissler & Smith (2010) have accomplished a detailed investigation into the suturing of amphibian lineages in the United States which uses both detailed geographical data and sophisticated analytical methods. The work greatly enhances our knowledge of suture zones by extending previous work that has focused less on amphibians and by explicitly considering the relationship between species richness and suture zones.