In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Vicariance Biogeography

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Textbooks
  • Brief History of Vicariance Biogeography
  • Foundational Works and Collections
  • Current Practice in Vicariance Biogeography
  • Land Bridges, Land Movement, and Long-Distance Dispersal
  • Geology and Plate Tectonics
  • Tests of Vicariance Hypotheses: Geological Data
  • Tests of Vicariance Hypotheses: Biological Data

Ecology Vicariance Biogeography
Ingi Agnarsson, Jason Ali, David S. Barrington
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 January 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0225


Vicariance biogeography seeks geo-physical explanations for disjunct distributions of organisms. Optimally, vicariance hypotheses are tested on the basis of the comparison of unrelated lineages of organisms that share geographic arenas. The fundamental approach is to marry geology and biology in the study of current and historical patterns of biodiversity. As a science, vicariance biogeography grew out of a synthesis of Alfred Wegener’s continental drift as realized by the plate-tectonic mechanism, Léon Croizat’s track analyses, and Willi Hennig’s phylogenetic systematics into a discipline with more readily testable hypotheses than those from classical dispersal biogeography. Vicariance biogeography, at the time of its emergence in the mid-1960s, offered a common explanation for many of the most puzzling disjunct-distribution patterns across the globe. From the 1960s to the early 21st century, vicariance biogeography dominated the field, marginalizing inquiries into geographic distributions on the basis of dispersal explanations, in part because center-of-origin ideas had fallen into disrepute. However, with the realization that vicariance hypotheses fail to explain an array of biogeographic patterns, including both isolated biotas on oceanic islands and many groups spread over previously connected landmasses, dispersal’s role in disjunct distributions of living things has been resurrected. The current consensus is that both processes play key roles in shaping the distribution of organisms through time.

General Overviews

An excellent primer for the scholar seeking insight into vicariance biogeography is the voluminous collection of foundational papers assembled in Lomolino, et al. 2004. This collection includes key early papers, with commentaries, on the role of vicariance by early authors as outlined in the Introduction, including Joseph D. Hooker, Alfred Wegener, George G. Simpson, Lars Brundin, Anthony Hallam, Philip J. Darlington, and many others. Wiens and Donoghue 2004 discusses the chasm between ecological and historical biogeography and the great potential in their integration. Cowell and Parker 2004 and Young, et al. 2004 review biogeography from the perspective of geologists. However, most early-21st-century overviews of historical biogeography are incorporated in general publications on biogeography, such as within biogeographical monographs and textbooks (see Textbooks). For example, Lomolino, et al. 2016 (cited under Textbooks) offers a detailed account of tectonic-plate theory and vicariance in chapters 8 and 12, including the history of the theories.

  • Cowell, C. Mark, and Albert J. Parker. 2004. Biogeography in the Annals. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 94.2: 256–268.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8306.2004.09402002.x

    Discusses fundamental areas of biogeographic research covered in this journal devoted to geography. A good summary of biogeography through the eyes of geographers, with a review of the evolution of the discipline.

  • Lomolino, Mark V., and Richard Field. 2014. Re-articulation and re-integration of publications: Monographs in biogeography. Frontiers of Biogeography 6.2: 57–59.

    A succinct summary of foundational monographs on biogeography published outside mainstream publication venues for biogeography research.

  • Lomolino, Mark V., Dov F. Sax, and James H. Brown, eds. 2004. Foundations of biogeography. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    A thorough introduction to, and reproduction of, influential papers on biogeography, from preevolutionary and precontinental-drift thinking to the beginning of the molecular revolution. An essential overview of early literature.

  • Wiens, John J., and Michael J. Donoghue. 2004. Historical biogeography, ecology and species richness. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 19.12: 639–644.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2004.09.011

    An influential commentary on the existing chasm, and potential synergic interplay, between ecological and historical biogeography. Highlights research agendas and modeling approaches in historical and ecological biogeography that have since been better integrated into the discipline.

  • Young, Kenneth R., Mark A. Blumler, Lori D. Daniels, Thomas T. Veblen, and Susy S. Ziegler. 2004. Biogeography. In Geography in America at the dawn of the 21st century. Edited by Gary L. Gaile and Cort J. Willmott, 17–31. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A chapter within a book exploring the state of the art in geography in America. Provides an overview of and prospects for biogeography from geographic perspective and practice, including key references in the field.

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