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Darwin, historical biogeography, and the importance of overcoming binary opposites

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It is well known that Darwin and Wallace came to discover the phenomenon of evolution through a historical approach to the geographical distribution of organisms. Before Darwin, evolution was a mere speculation that could be invoked to explain some facts. Darwin’s biogeographical argument for evolution is based largely on three main explanatory hypotheses. The first is that the geographical distribution of organisms is historically informative. The second hypothesis is that long-distance dispersal over barriers is one main force (extinction is the other) that modifies the distribution of organisms. The third of Darwin’s biogeographical hypotheses is that the factors that shape the distribution of organisms are mainly historical (large, often global and long temporal scales) rather than ecological (small spatial and short temporal scales). From the time of Darwin until now, a wide spectrum of biogeographical schools have provided new insights that challenge the central role of space, dispersal and history as the main explanatory hypotheses for the distribution of organisms, generating three binary opposites: (1) the spatial dimension of evolution: geographical distribution of organisms as historically informative vs. historically uninformative; (2) the processes that modify the geographical distribution of organisms: dispersal vs. vicariance; and (3) the explanation of geographical distribution: history vs. ecology. We analyse these three binary opposites to show that the components of each are complementary rather than antagonistic approaches to the study of biogeography.

Keywords: Biogeography; Charles Darwin; dispersal; ecology; evolution; geographical distribution; history of science; vicariance

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: DivisiĆ³n Plantas Vasculares, Museo de La Plata, Paseo del Bosque s/n, La Plata, Argentina

Publication date: 2009-06-01

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