Cladistic and phylogenetic biogeography: the art and the science of discovery

M.G.P. van Veller, D.R. Brooks, R. Zandee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


All methods used in historical biogeographical analysis aim to obtain resolved area cladograms that represent historical relationships among areas in which monophyletic groups of taxa are distributed. When neither widespread nor sympatric taxa are present in the distribution of a monophyletic group, all methods obtain the same resolved area cladogram that conforms to a simple vicariance scenario. In most cases, however, the distribution of monophyletic groups of taxa is not that simple. A priori and a posteriori methods of historical biogeography differ in the way in which they deal with widespread and sympatric taxa. A posteriori methods are empirically superior to a priori methods, as they provide a more parsimonious accounting of the input data, do not eliminate or modify input data, and do not suffer from internal inconsistencies in implementation. When factual errors are corrected, the exemplar presented by M.C. Ebach & C.J. Humphries (Journal of Biogeography, 2002, 29, 427) purporting to show inconsistencies in implementation by a posteriori methods actually corroborates the opposite. The rationale for preferring a priori methods thus corresponds to ontological rather than to epistemological considerations. We herein identify two different research programmes, cladistic biogeography (associated with a priori methods) and phylogenetic biogeography (associated with a posteriori methods). The aim of cladistic biogeography is to fit all elements of all taxon–area cladograms to a single set of area relationships, maintaining historical singularity of areas. The aim of phylogenetic biogeography is to document, most parsimoniously, the geographical context of speciation events. The recent contribution by M.C. Ebach & C.J. Humphries (Journal of Biogeography, 2002, 29, 427) makes it clear that cladistic biogeography using a priori methods is an inductivist/verificationist research programme, whereas phylogenetic biogeography is hypothetico-deductivist/falsificationist. Cladistic biogeography can become hypothetic-deductive by using a posteriori methods of analysis
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-329
JournalJournal of Biogeography
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • historical biogeography
  • vicariance biogeography
  • parsimony analysis
  • area cladograms
  • component analysis
  • a-posteriori
  • speciation
  • statements
  • dispersal
  • assumption-1


Dive into the research topics of 'Cladistic and phylogenetic biogeography: the art and the science of discovery'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this