• Dispersal;
  • geology;
  • invertebrates;
  • molecular clock;
  • vertebrates;
  • Wallacea

Sulawesi, the largest island in the Indonesian biodiversity hotspot region Wallacea, hosts a diverse endemic fauna whose origin has been debated for more than 150 years. We use a comparative approach based on dated phylogenies and geological constraints to test the role of vicariance versus dispersal in the origin of Sulawesi taxa. Most divergence time estimates for the split of Sulawesi lineages from their sister groups postdate relevant tectonic vicariant events, suggesting that the island was predominantly colonized by dispersal. Vicariance cannot be refuted for 20% of the analyzed taxa, though. Although vicariance across Wallace's Line was only supported for one arthropod taxon, divergence time estimates were consistent with a “tectonic dispersal” vicariance hypothesis from the East in three (invertebrate and vertebrate) taxa. Speciation on Sulawesi did not occur before the Miocene, which is consistent with geological evidence for more extensive land on the island from that time. The Pliocene onset of periodic sea-level changes may have played a role in increasing the potential for dispersal to Sulawesi. A more extensive taxon sampling in Wallacea will be crucial for refining our understanding of the region's biogeography and for testing hypotheses on the origin of taxa on its most important island.