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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Phylogeographic pattern of Rhizophora (Rhizophoraceae) reveals the importance of both vicariance and long-distance oceanic dispersal to modern mangrove distribution

Eugenia YY Lo1, Norman C Duke2 and Mei Sun3*

  • * Corresponding author: Mei Sun

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California at Irvine, Irvine, CA 92697, USA

2 Trop WATER, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD, Australia

3 School of Biological Sciences, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam Road, Pokfulam, Hong Kong

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2014, 14:83  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-14-83

Published: 17 April 2014



Mangroves are key components of coastal ecosystems in tropical and subtropical regions worldwide. However, the patterns and mechanisms of modern distribution of mangroves are still not well understood. Historical vicariance and dispersal are two hypothetic biogeographic processes in shaping the patterns of present-day species distributions. Here we investigate evolutionary biogeography of mangroves in the Indo-West Pacific (IWP) and western Atlantic-East Pacific (AEP) regions using a large sample of populations of Rhizophora (the most representative mangrove genus) and a combination of chloroplast and nuclear DNA sequences and genome-wide ISSR markers.


Our comparative analyses of biogeographic patterns amongst Rhizophora taxa worldwide support the hypothesis that ancient dispersals along the Tethys Seaway and subsequent vicariant events that divided the IWP and AEP lineages resulted in the major disjunctions. We dated the deep split between the Old and New World lineages to early Eocene based on fossil calibration and geological and tectonic changes. Our data also provide evidence for other vicariant processes within the Indo-West Pacific region in separating conspecific lineages of SE Asia and Australia-Pacific at the Oligocene-Miocene boundary. Close genetic affinities exist between extant Fijian and American lineages; East African and Australian lineages; and Australian and Pacific lineages; indicating relatively more recent oceanic long-distance dispersal events.


Our study demonstrates that neither vicariance nor dispersal alone could explain the observed global occurrences of Rhizophora, but a combination of vicariant events and oceanic long-distance dispersals can account for historical diversification and present-day biogeographic patterns of mangroves.

Atlantic-east pacific; Chloroplast DNA; Divergence time; Indo-west pacific; Nuclear markers; Long-distance dispersal; Mangroves; Phylogeography; Rhizophora; Vicariance