Geography Biogeography
Lynn Resler
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 February 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0116


Biogeography is a broad and holistic science that examines spatial patterns of biological diversity. Biogeography is a subfield of the discipline of geography (or biology, depending on area of specialization), the study of the spatial distribution of phenomena over the earth. Biogeographers examine the historical, geological, ecological, and environmental factors that influence the pattern of life on earth in the past, in the present, and into the future. The field of biogeography has composite origins, with its foundations built from theories and observations generated before biogeography was established as an independent discipline by renowned scientists from allied disciplines including Carl Linnaeus, Alexander von Humboldt, Charles Darwin, Alfred Wallace, and C. Hart Merriam. During the late 20th and early 21st centuries the identity of biogeography has emerged as an independent, yet composite, discipline, as it relies on integration of data and theory from geography, ecology, evolutionary biology, landscape ecology, the earth sciences, anthropology, and history. Thus, the approaches, training, and specializations of biogeographers vary. Commonly recognized specializations within biogeography include ecological biogeography, paleoecology, and historical biogeography, though the lines that divide them often remain fluid with substantial overlap. Historical biogeographers are often trained in biology and invoke historical and evolutionary explanations (often grounded in plate tectonics, long-term climate change, and evolutionary mechanisms) for distributions of plants and animals over evolutionary time scales. They are concerned with reconstructions of worldwide dispersal, extinction, and evolutionary patterns. Ecological biogeographers, frequently trained in ecology and/or geography, try to understand present distributions of plants and animals and their current, recent past, and projected interactions with physical environment and biotic interactions that shape their communities. Many paleoecologists also have training in geography and or ecology, and reconstruct animal and plant distributions and environments typically within the Quaternary, especially the latter portion (i.e., the Holocene). Methods and approaches for all subfields vary somewhat. The purpose of this bibliography is to synthesize influential works in the broad field of biogeography, with an emphasis on methods and research conducted in ecological biogeography with a spatial emphasis.

General Overviews

Given the number of specializations within biogeography, general overviews often reflect the research biases of authors and their background. Therefore, students or practitioners may prefer to select overviews that align most closely reflect their own approach. Ricklefs and Jenkins 2011 offers a comparative look at the fields of ecology and biogeography, useful for those who are curious about overlap between the two disciplines. Cowell and Parker 2004 is a great place to start for an overview of research themes frequently addressed by biogeographers with geographic training, as reflected by research published in geography’s flagship journal. Young, et al. 2004 also provides an excellent overview of biogeographic research from the geographic tradition. Millington, et al. 2011 is a valuable resource to students and established academics alike, with chapters on unique and often unexplored aspects of the discipline, including the built environment and ethnobotany. Lomolino and Field 2014 offers a valuable overview and bibliographic listing of monographs, but with a strong emphasis on historical biogeography and the work of evolutionary biologists. Veblen, et al. 1996 is a strong example of a regional overview, highlighting the unique and defining phytogeographical aspects of southern hemisphere forests. Finally, Young 2014 provides a thought-provoking and visionary look into how we may need to rethink biogeographic theory and inquiry, to be more compatible with the rapid changes of the Anthropocene.

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

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8306.2004.09402002.x

    Outlines four fundamental research areas of biogeographic research published in the Annals. Excellent summary of biogeographic work conducted primarily from a geographic perspective, and paradigm trends and shifts over time.

  • Lomolino, Mark V., and Richard Field. “Re-Articulation and Re-Integration of Publications: Monographs in Biogeography.” Frontiers of Biogeography 6.2 (2014): 57–59.

    Concise editorial summarizing foundational monographs of biogeography theory, yet are not published in biogeographic outlets. Provides useful, albeit brief, bibliography of influential works relevant to island biogeography, gradients, and distributions.

  • Millington, Andrew, Mark Blumler, and Udo Schickhoff, eds. The SAGE Handbook of Biogeography. London: SAGE, 2011.

    Celebrates the breadth of contemporary biogeography, as practiced and defined by geographers. Includes novel chapters, including those on techniques, linking biogeography and society, the built environment, and agricultural environments. Includes insightful readings for classroom settings, especially those in geography departments.

  • Ricklefs, Robert E., and David G. Jenkins. “Biogeography and Ecology: Towards the Integration of Two Disciplines.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 366.1576 (2011): 2438–2448.

    DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2011.0066

    For those who want to understand some of the similarities and differences between the fields of biogeography and ecology, this article provides a contextualizing framework.

  • Veblen, Thomas T., Robert S. Hill, and Jennifer Read, eds. The Ecology and Biogeography of Nothofagus Forests. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996.

    Written by a preeminent biogeographer, this book explores the ecology, biogeography, and history of this southern hemisphere, defining genus through a series of contributed chapters. It fills an important gap through summarization and synthesis of the dynamics of this tree type.

  • Young, Kenneth R. “Biogeography of the Anthropocene: Novel Species Assemblages.” Progress in Physical Geography 38.5 (2014): 664–673.

    DOI: 10.1177/0309133314540930

    A report discussing ideas on how biogeographic thought, methods, and application will need to change in light of human impacts. Describes the Anthropocene and the need to recognize it at a distinct period in the earth’s history, “no-analog biogeography,” and novel species assemblages that are likely to emerge in the future, and tools and limitations.

  • Young, Kenneth R., Mark A. Blumler, Lori D. Daniels, Thomas T. Veblen, and Susy S. Ziegler. “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 University Press, 2004.

    Part of a larger work on the broad discipline of geography. This chapter provides an overview of biogeography from the geographic tradition, with citations to many important works and a look at important future research opportunities.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.