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Global determinants of zoogeographical boundaries


The distribution of living organisms on Earth is spatially structured. Early biogeographers identified the existence of multiple zoogeographical regions, characterized by faunas with homogeneous composition that are separated by biogeographical boundaries. Yet, no study has deciphered the factors shaping the distributions of terrestrial biogeographical boundaries at the global scale. Here, using spatial regression analyses, we show that tectonic movements, sharp changes in climatic conditions and orographic barriers determine extant biogeographical boundaries. These factors lead to abrupt zoogeographical transitions when they act in concert, but their prominence varies across the globe. Clear differences exist among boundaries representing profound or shallow dissimilarities between faunas. Boundaries separating zoogeographical regions with limited divergence occur in areas with abrupt climatic transitions. In contrast, plate tectonics determine the separation between deeply divergent biogeographical realms, particularly in the Old World. Our study reveals the multiple drivers that have shaped the biogeographical regions of the world.

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Figure 1: The global zoogeographical regions of the world.
Figure 2: Relative importance of plate tectonics, altitude and climate on the boundary positions of the biogeographical regions worldwide.
Figure 3: Geographical variability of the importance of tectonics, altitude and climate on the position of biogeographical boundaries.
Figure 4: Factors most strongly related to the presence of biogeographical boundaries.


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We thank S. Ramdhani for providing high-resolution maps of bioregions. The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Community’s Seven Framework Programme FP7/2007–2013 Grant Agreement no. 281422 (TEEMBIO). All authors belong to the Laboratoire d’Écologie Alpine, which is part of Labex OSUG@2020 (ANR10 LABX56).

Author information




G.F.F., F.M. and W.T. conceived the study. G.F.F. performed all analyses with the help of F.M. G.F.F. wrote the first version of the manuscript, with contributions from F.M. and W.T.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gentile Francesco Ficetola.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Ficetola, G., Mazel, F. & Thuiller, W. Global determinants of zoogeographical boundaries. Nat Ecol Evol 1, 0089 (2017).

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