Reconciling the origins of Africa, India and Madagascar with vertebrate dispersal scenarios

Folia Primatol (Basel). 2006;77(6):399-418. doi: 10.1159/000095388.


Africa, India and Madagascar were once part of the supercontinent of Gondwana. This land mass began to fragment approx. 170 million years ago, and by 83 million years, all of the major components we recognize today were separated by tracts of water. Madagascar's fossil record and estimates of the timing of the extant vertebrate radiations in Madagascar are not easily reconciled with this history of fragmentation. Fossil faunas that lived prior to approx. 65 million years had a cosmopolitan flavour, but this was lost after the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary. Phylogenetic reconstructions of most extant Malagasy vertebrate radiations indicate divergence times that postdate the End-Cretaceous (lemurs, tenrecs, cichlid fish) and even the Early Miocene (chameleons, carnivores, rodents). Most biogeographic explanations of these groups rely, therefore, on Simpson's model of sweepstakes dispersal (see also cover figure), but there are significant problems in applying the model to migrations from Africa to Madagascar, although its application is not so intractable between India and Madagascar. Alternative migration routes for consideration lie: (1) along the suite of fracture zones between Antarctica and Africa/Madagascar (known as the Antarctic-Africa Corridor), which may have been exposed episodically above sea level; (2) along a series of submerged basaltic ridges/plateaus with known or suspected continental crust between Antarctica and Africa/Madagascar/India flanking the Antarctic-Africa Corridor (e.g. the Madagascar Ridge, Mozambique Ridge, Conrad Plateau, Gunnerus Ridge); (3) between Africa and Madagascar along the Davie Ridge (parts of which are known to have been exposed episodically above sea level); (4) along the Deccan hotspot corridor between India and greater Africa.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Africa
  • Animal Migration
  • Animals
  • Demography
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Female
  • Fossils*
  • Geography
  • India
  • Madagascar
  • Male
  • Models, Biological*
  • Models, Genetic
  • Phylogeny*
  • Plants / classification
  • Plants / genetics
  • Vertebrates / classification*
  • Vertebrates / genetics