Maximum likelihood inference of geographic range evolution by dispersal, local extinction, and cladogenesis

Syst Biol. 2008 Feb;57(1):4-14. doi: 10.1080/10635150701883881.


In historical biogeography, model-based inference methods for reconstructing the evolution of geographic ranges on phylogenetic trees are poorly developed relative to the diversity of analogous methods available for inferring character evolution. We attempt to rectify this deficiency by constructing a dispersal-extinction-cladogenesis (DEC) model for geographic range evolution that specifies instantaneous transition rates between discrete states (ranges) along phylogenetic branches and apply it to estimating likelihoods of ancestral states (range inheritance scenarios) at cladogenesis events. Unlike an earlier version of this approach, the present model allows for an analytical solution to probabilities of range transitions as a function of time, enabling free parameters in the model, rates of dispersal, and local extinction to be estimated by maximum likelihood. Simulation results indicate that accurate parameter estimates may be difficult to obtain in practice but also show that ancestral range inheritance scenarios nevertheless can be correctly recovered with high success if rates of range evolution are low relative to the rate of cladogenesis. We apply the DEC model to a previously published, exemplary case study of island biogeography involving Hawaiian endemic angiosperms in Psychotria (Rubiaceae), showing how the DEC model can be iteratively refined from inspecting inferences of range evolution and also how geological constraints involving times of island origin may be imposed on the likelihood function. The DEC model is sufficiently similar to character models that it might serve as a gateway through which many existing comparative methods for characters could be imported into the realm of historical biogeography; moreover, it might also inspire the conceptual expansion of character models toward inclusion of evolutionary change as directly coincident, either as cause or consequence, with cladogenesis events. The DEC model is thus an incremental advance that highlights considerable potential in the nascent field of model-based historical biogeographic inference.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution*
  • Extinction, Biological
  • Geography*
  • Hawaii
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Models, Biological*
  • Psychotria*