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The historical biogeography of sturgeons (Osteichthyes: Acipenseridae): a synthesis of phylogenetics, palaeontology and palaeogeography

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Abstract. The historical biogeography of sturgeons is explored using information from palaeogeography, palaeontology and phylogenetic interrelationships. The integration of information from these diverse sources indicates that sturgeons reached a wide Laurasian distribution in the Cretaceous and Tertiary by freshwater and coastal dispersal routes across land connections and along newly forming continental margins. The fossil record also suggests a considerable degree of morphological stasis and also supports an estuarine habit, and perhaps diadromy, as an old and conserved life history trait. While a ‘centre of origin’ for sturgeons remains elusive, phylogenetic relationships indicate that diversification appears to have been associated with fragmentation of biota, and of landmasses and basins, by late Tertiary geological and climatic phenomena, such as orogeny and unequal glaciation over North America, the desiccation of central Asia and alteration of its drainages, and the formation of discrete Ponto‐Caspian basins by the fragmentation of the Paratethys. Amphi‐oceanic distributions of certain species (Acipenser medirostris Ayres) and sister taxa (e.g. A. oxyrhynchus Mitchill and A. sturio L.) are explained by coastal dispersal and subsequent vicariance by geological (sea‐floor spreading and development of new continental margins) and climatic (Pliocene cooling) changes during the Tertiary. An hypothesis is developed for the relationships of the North American sturgeons and their potential relationships with the Siberian sturgeon A. baeri. Late Tertiary climatic and geological phenomena are hypothesized as mediators of vicariance and subsequent diversification of these acipenserids. It appears that although acipenserids are a geologically old group, the historical biogeography of surviving lineages is best explained by more recent geological and climatic changes.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Zoology, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada R3T 2N2

Publication date: July 1, 1998

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