• Australia;
  • Branchiopoda;
  • dispersal;
  • gene flow;
  • temporary pools


Temporary water bodies are important freshwater habitats in the arid zone of Australia. They harbor a distinct fauna and provide important feeding and breeding grounds for water birds. This paper assesses, on the basis of haplotype networks, analyses of molecular variation and relaxed molecular clock divergence time estimates, the phylogeographic history, and population structure of four common temporary water species of the Australian endemic clam shrimp taxon Limnadopsis in eastern and central Australia (an area of >1,350,000 km2). Mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase subunit I sequences of 413 individuals and a subset of 63 nuclear internal transcribed spacer 2 sequences were analyzed. Genetic differentiation was observed between populations inhabiting southeastern and central Australia and those inhabiting the northern Lake Eyre Basin and Western Australia. However, over large parts of the study area and across river drainage systems in southeastern and central Australia (the Murray–Darling Basin, Bulloo River, and southern Lake Eyre Basin), no evidence of population subdivision was observed in any of the four Limnadopsis species. This indicates recent gene flow across an area of ∼800,000 km2. This finding contrasts with patterns observed in other Australian arid zone taxa, particularly freshwater species, whose populations are often structured according to drainage systems. The lack of genetic differentiation within the area in question may be linked to the huge number of highly nomadic water birds that potentially disperse the resting eggs of Limnadopsis among temporary water bodies. Genetically undifferentiated populations on a large geographic scale contrast starkly with findings for many other large branchiopods in other parts of the world, where pronounced genetic structure is often observed even in populations inhabiting pools separated by a few kilometers. Due to its divergent genetic lineages (up to 5.6% uncorrected p-distance) and the relaxed molecular clock divergence time estimates obtained, Limnadopsis parvispinus is assumed to have inhabited the Murray–Darling Basin continuously since the mid-Pliocene (∼4 million years ago). This means that suitable temporary water bodies would have existed in this area throughout the wet–dry cycles of the Pleistocene.