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Title: Geographic barriers but not life history traits shape the phylogeography of North American mammals
Abstract Aim

Synthesize literature on genetic structure within species to understand how geographic features and species traits influence past responses to climate change.


North America.

Time Period

We synthesized phylogeographic studies from 1978 to 2023, which describe genetic lineages that diverged during the Pleistocene (≥11,700 years ago).

Major Taxa Studied



We conducted a literature review to map genetic breaks in species distributions, then tested a set of geographic hypotheses (e.g., mountains, rivers) to explain their position by comparing break locations to a grid within each species' sampled range using logistic regression. We then conducted a meta‐analysis using species‐specific model estimates to ask if life‐history traits explained variation in which barriers were most important in species' past response to climate change.


Our findings reveal heterogeneity in both where North American mammal phylogeography has been studied and the density of genetic breaks across 229 species. We found relatively high concordance among carnivores, ungulates and lagomorphs, where breaks were associated with mountains, major water bodies and relatively even terrain. In contrast, we found high variability within rodents and shrews, and no evidence that intrinsic factors related to dispersal ability explained the importance of hypothesized barriers across all species.

Main Conclusions

Southern Mexico is a hotspot for genetic breaks that has yet to be integrated into the broader story of North American phylogeography. We show that mountains and major water bodies play particularly important roles as barriers, but substantial variation across species within orders suggests that there is more to the story besides shared climatic or phylogenetic histories. Thus, understanding the phylogeography of individual species will continue to be important given that our results suggest high variability in how species may respond to future global change.

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Publisher / Repository:
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Global Ecology and Biogeography
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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