Evolutionary Biology

, Volume 36, Issue 3, pp 327–335 | Cite as

Vagility: The Neglected Component in Historical Biogeography

  • Ullasa Kodandaramaiah


The conceptual gap between ecological and historical biogeography is wide, although both disciplines are concerned with explaining how distributions have been shaped. A central aim of modern historical biogeography is to use a phylogenetic framework to reconstruct the geographic history of a group in terms of dispersals and vicariant events, and a number of analytical methods have been developed to do so. To date the most popular analytical methods in historical biogeography have been parsimony-based. Such methods can be classified into two groups based on the assumptions used. The first group assumes that vicariance between two areas creates common patterns of disjunct distributions across several taxa whereas dispersals and extinctions generate clade specific patterns. The second group of methods assumes that passive vicariance and within-area speciation have a higher probability of occurrence than active dispersal events and extinction. Typically, none of these methods takes into account the ecology of the taxa in question. I discuss why these methods can be potentially misleading if the ecology of the taxon is ignored. In particular, the vagility or dispersal ability of taxa plays a pivotal role in shaping the distributions and modes of speciation. I argue that the vagility of taxa should be explicitly incorporated in biogeographic analyses. Likelihood-based methods with models in which more realistic probabilities of dispersal and modes of speciation can be specified are arguably the way ahead. Although objective quantification will pose a challenge, the complete ignorance of this vital aspect, as has been done in many historical biogeographic analyses, can be dangerous. I use worked examples to show a simple way of utilizing such information, but better methods need to be developed to more effectively use ecological knowledge in historical biogeography.


DIVA Vicariance Dispersal Area cladogram Vagility Historical biogeography 



I thank Niklas Wahlberg and Felix Sperling for discussion and encouragement. I am also grateful to two anonymous reviewers who suggested several improvements.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ZoologyStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden

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