Ranidae is a large anuran group with a nearly cosmopolitan distribution. We investigated the phylogenetic relationships and early biogeographic history of ranid frogs, using 104 representatives of all subfamilies and families, sampled from throughout their distribution. Analyses of approximately 1570 bp of nuclear gene fragments (Rag-1, rhod, Tyr) and approximately 2100 bp of the mitochondrial genome (12S rRNA, tRNAVAL, 16S rRNA) indicate that the monophyly of several taxa can be rejected with high confidence. Our tree is characterized by a clear historical association of each major clade with one Gondwanan plate. This prevalence of continent-scale endemism suggests that plate tectonics has played a major role in the distribution of ranid frogs. We performed dispersal-vicariance analyses, as well as analyses constrained by paleogeographic data, to estimate ancestral distributions during early ranid diversification. Additionally, we used molecular clock analyses to evaluate whether these scenarios fit the temporal framework of continental breakup. Our analyses suggest that a scenario in which the ancestors of several clades (Rhacophorinae, Dicroglossinae, Raninae) reached Eurasia via the Indian subcontinent, and the ancestor of Ceratobatrachinae entered via the Australia-New Guinea plate, best fits the paleogeographic models and requires the fewest number of dispersal/vicariance events. However, several alternatives, in which part of the ranid fauna colonized Laurasia from Africa, are not significantly worse. Most importantly, all hypotheses make clear predictions as to where to expect key fossils and where to sample other living ranids, and thus constitute a strong basis for further research.
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