Marine biogeographical disjunction in temperate Australia: historical landbridge, contemporary currents, or both?


Jonathan M. Waters, Department of Zoology, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand. E-mail:


Marine biogeographers have long recognized broad east–west differentiation of marine communities across southern Australia, but few studies have explicitly assessed the site of disjunction or the factors potentially underlying this biodiversity. A recent, detailed phylogeographical and distributional study of the dispersive gastropod genus Nerita revealed an abrupt shift in species abundance across mainland Australia, apparently correlated with the site of an historical vicariant barrier: the Bassian Isthmus. In the current study I provide an independent assessment of this vicariant hypothesis by morphologically analysing over 3000 intertidal Nerita specimens from eight coastal sites around Tasmania. Consistent with the Bassian Isthmus hypothesis, the study reveals a dramatic east–west disjunction across north-east Tasmania. A survey of marine biogeographical literature reveals several additional examples supporting the east–west species turnover detected in Nerita. I discuss the role of contemporary oceanographic factors in preserving the biogeographical signature of marine vicariance, even in highly dispersive taxa. Based on recent marine connectivity data, the east–west disjunction in Nerita taxa can be interpreted as an historic vicariant pattern perpetuated by contemporary oceanographic conditions. The results of this study emphasize the potential importance of considering relative abundance data – rather than just species range data – in marine biogeographical analyses. As the observed disjunction is likely to have broad implications for Australia's marine biodiversity, it is imperative that conservation biologists incorporate such data in the design of marine protected areas.