Evolution on oceanic islands: Molecular phylogenetic approaches to understanding pattern and process

B. C. Emerson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

375 Citations (Scopus)


By their very nature oceanic island ecosystems offer great opportunities for the study of evolution and have for a long time been recognized as natural laboratories for studying evolution owing to their discrete geographical nature and diversity of species and habitats. The development of molecular genetic methods for phylogenetic reconstruction has been a significant advance for evolutionary biologists, providing a tool for answering questions about the diversity among the flora and fauna on such islands. These questions relate to both the origin and causes of species diversity both within an archipelago and on individual islands. Within a phylogenetic framework one can answer fundamental questions such as whether ecologically and/or morphologically similar species on different islands are the result of island colonization or convergent evolution. Testing hypotheses about ages of the individual species groups or entire community assemblages is also possible within a phylogenetic framework. Evolutionary biologists and ecologists are increasingly turning to molecular phylogenetics for studying oceanic island plant and animal communities and it is important to review what has been attempted and achieved so far, with some cautionary notes about interpreting phylogeographical pattern on oceanic islands.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)951-966
Number of pages16
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2002

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