Towards a Synthesis of the Caribbean Biogeography of Terrestrial Arthropods

BMC Evol Biol. 2020 Jan 24;20(1):12. doi: 10.1186/s12862-019-1576-z.


Background: The immense geologic and ecological complexity of the Caribbean has created a natural laboratory for interpreting when and how organisms disperse through time and space. However, competing hypotheses compounded with this complexity have resulted in a lack of unifying principles of biogeography for the region. Though new data concerning the timing of geologic events and dispersal events are emerging, powerful new analytical tools now allow for explicit hypothesis testing. Arthropods, with varying dispersal ability and high levels of endemism in the Caribbean, are an important, albeit understudied, biogeographic model system. Herein, we include a comprehensive analysis of every publicly available genetic dataset (at the time of writing) of terrestrial Caribbean arthropod groups using a statistically robust pipeline to explicitly test the current extent of biogeographic hypotheses for the region.

Results: Our findings indicate several important biogeographic generalizations for the region: the South American continent is the predominant origin of Caribbean arthropod fauna; GAARlandia played a role for some taxa in aiding dispersal from South America to the Greater Antilles; founder event dispersal explains the majority of dispersal events by terrestrial arthropods, and distance between landmasses is important for dispersal; most dispersal events occurred via island hopping; there is evidence of 'reverse' dispersal from islands to the mainland; dispersal across the present-day Isthmus of Panama generally occurred prior to 3 mya; the Greater Antilles harbor more lineage diversity than the Lesser Antilles, and the larger Greater Antilles typically have greater lineage diversity than the smaller islands; basal Caribbean taxa are primarily distributed in the Greater Antilles, the basal-most being from Cuba, and derived taxa are mostly distributed in the Lesser Antilles; Jamaican taxa are usually endemic and monophyletic.

Conclusions: Given the diversity and deep history of terrestrial arthropods, incongruence of biogeographic patterns is expected, but focusing on both similarities and differences among divergent taxa with disparate life histories emphasizes the importance of particular qualities responsible for resulting diversification patterns. Furthermore, this study provides an analytical toolkit that can be used to guide researchers interested in answering questions pertaining to Caribbean biogeography using explicit hypothesis testing.

Keywords: Arachnids; BioGeoBEARS; Biogeography; Central American seaway; Insects; Islands; Isthmus of Panama; Probabilistic inference.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthropods / classification*
  • Caribbean Region
  • Host Specificity
  • Phylogeography*
  • South America