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Eighty‐three lineages that took over the world: a first review of terrestrial cosmopolitan tetrapods

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While there is a huge macroecological and biogeographical literature addressing endemism, very little has been done to systematically study lineages that are widely distributed across the globe. Our aim here was to list and analyse those lineages of terrestrial tetrapod vertebrates found in 60–90% of the world, loosely termed here as cosmopolitan.


Two sets of geographical units and three occupancy criteria were used to list, analyse and map cosmopolitan lineages and their sister lineages.

Among the 83 lineages identified, 2 were represented by amphibians, 9 by reptiles, 13 by mammals, and the remainder by birds, of which 12 were passerines and 47 were non‐passerines. All these lineages are present in parts of Southeast Asia, most of them throughout much of Eurasia and Africa, but fewer in South America and very few in Australia. Only three of the lineages (all reptiles) are likely to exemplify vicariance or early dispersal‐driven cosmopolitanism, the rest having attained world‐wide distribution via extensive, geologically recent dispersal. The distribution of sister lineages indicates that many cosmopolitan lineages probably originated in the savanna regions of Africa, some in Southeast Asia, and fewer in tropical America.
Main conclusions

Cosmopolitan distributions in tetrapods are primarily the result of dispersal, with large body size and the ability to fly being two key correlates of rapid global colonization. We argue that a cosmopolitan lineage framework in biogeographical and ecological studies could add great depth to the understanding of evolutionary success, and would be highly relevant to the field of invasion biology.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 October 2013

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