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Proc Biol Sci. 2013 Nov 27;281(1775):20132648. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2013.2648. Print 2014 Jan 22.

A living fossil tale of Pangaean biogeography.

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Museum of Comparative Zoology and Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, , 26 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA, CNRS, Université Paul Sabatier, ENFA, UMR 5174 EDB (Laboratoire Évolution et Diversité Biologique), Université de Toulouse, , 118 route de Narbonne, Toulouse 31062, France, Department of Botany and Zoology, University of Stellenbosch, , Private Bag X1, Matieland 7602, South Africa, Landcare Research, Auckland Mail Centre, , Private Bag 92170, Auckland 1142, New Zealand, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland, , Auckland, New Zealand, Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution, , Auckland, New Zealand, Animal Evolution and Development, Institute of Biology, University of Leipzig, , Talstraße 33, Leipzig 04103, Germany.


The current distributions of widespread groups of terrestrial animals and plants are supposedly the result of a mixture of either vicariance owing to continental split or more recent trans-oceanic dispersal. For organisms exhibiting a vicariant biogeographic pattern-achieving their current distribution by riding on the plates of former supercontinents-this view is largely inspired by the belief that Pangaea lacked geographical or ecological barriers, or that extinctions and dispersal would have erased any biogeographic signal since the early Mesozoic. We here present a time-calibrated molecular phylogeny of Onychophora (velvet worms), an ancient and exclusively terrestrial panarthropod group distributed throughout former Pangaean landmasses. Our data not only demonstrate that trans-oceanic dispersal does not need be invoked to explain contemporary distributions, but also reveal that the early diversification of the group pre-dates the break-up of Pangaea, maintaining regionalization even in landmasses that have remained contiguous throughout the history of the group. These results corroborate a growing body of evidence from palaeontology, palaeogeography and palaeoclimatic modelling depicting ancient biogeographic regionalization over the continuous landmass of Pangaea.


Onychophora; biogeography; molecular dating; velvet worms

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