A review of marine phylogeography in southern Africa

  • Peter R. Teske Molecular Ecology and Systematics Group, Botany Department, Rhodes University
  • Sophie von der Heyden Evolutionary Genomics Group, Department of Botany and Zoology, Stellenbosch University
  • Christopher D. McQuaid Department of Zoology and Entomology, Rhodes University
  • Nigel P. Barker Molecular Ecology and Systematics Group, Botany Department, Rhodes University
Keywords: phylogeographic break, dispersal barrier, asymmetrical gene flow, marine vicariance, cryptic speciation, physiological adaptation, climate change


The southern African marine realm is located at the transition zone between the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific biomes. Its biodiversity is particularly rich and comprises faunal and floral elements from the two major oceanic regions, as well as a large number of endemics. Within this realm, strikingly different biota occur in close geographic proximity to each other, and many of the species with distributions spanning two or more of the region’s marine biogeographic provinces are divided into evolutionary units that can often only be distinguished on the basis of genetic data. In this review, we describe the state of marine phylogeography in southern Africa, that is, the study of evolutionary relationships at the species level, or amongst closely related species, in relation to the region’s marine environment. We focus particularly on coastal phylogeography, where much progress has recently been made in identifying phylogeographic breaks and explaining how they originated and are maintained. We also highlight numerous shortcomings that should be addressed in the near future. These include: the limited data available for commercially important organisms, particularly offshore species; the paucity of oceanographic data for nearshore areas; a dearth of studies based on multilocus data; and the fact that studying the role of diversifying selection in speciation has been limited to physiological approaches to the exclusion of genetics. It is becoming apparent that the southern African marine realm is one of the world’s most interesting environments in which to study the evolutionary processes that shape not only regional, but also global patterns of marine biodiversity.

Author Biography

Peter R. Teske, Molecular Ecology and Systematics Group, Botany Department, Rhodes University
Department of Zoology and Entomology, Rhodes University


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