The major faunal regions (or realms) of the world only partly coincide with major landmasses (Fig. 1). Each region has a characteristic fauna distinguished by the particular combination of endemic taxa that exist in only this one region and those occurring also elsewhere. This early descriptive approach has long dominated zoogeography.
The Holarctic region is the largest region and is composed of the Palearctic and Nearctic regions, with many animals distributed over all the entire Holarctic region. Although a narrow land bridge (i.e., Central America) connects the Nearctic with the Neotropical region, the faunal change is pronounced. This land bridge is recent and was available only intermittently in the past. The Sahara Desert separates the Palearctic region from the Ethiopian (or Afrotropical) region, which includes the Arabian peninsula; Madagascar is now recognized as a distinct subregion. In Southeast Asia, climatic
and other ecological differences cause a rather abrupt change of the biota south of the Himalayas, where the Palearctic and Oriental regions meet. In the southeast, the Oriental region is in contact with the Australian region, which includes New Guinea, New Zealand, New Caledonia, and the Oceanic subregion. The Australian region is most distinct, but the change toward the Oriental region is nevertheless not abrupt. Depending on the animal group studied, different variants of a border line (named Wallace's line after Alfred Russel Wallace, the earliest observer) were proposed in the past. The Oriental—Australian transition zone is sometimes called Wallacea.
There are puzzling resemblances among the faunas of different zoogeographical regions that are not in physical contact, and related animals may live on widely separate continents. Examples are provided by similarities between the faunas of eastern South America and West Central Africa, between Madagascar and India, or between Andean South America and the Australian region. Also, the fauna of eastern North America has resemblances to the European fauna, and the Far East Asian fauna to that of northern and western North America, despite the intervening oceans. On the other hand, insects in western North America are more distinct from those in the east, and those in Europe differ more from those in Asia, than one would expect in view of the continuous landmasses. These inconsistencies cannot be explained from present geography or ecology but reflect histories of ancient landmasses.
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