The recent evolutionary origin of the phenotypically novel amphipod Hyalella montezuma offers an ecological explanation for morphological stasis in a closely allied species complex


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Numerous molecular studies have identified morphologically cryptic, freshwater invertebrate species, but have not suggested possible mechanisms for their phenotypic stasis. The amphipod crustacean genus Hyalella contains numerous morphologically cryptic species in the H. azteca complex, as well as a small number of morphologically very divergent, narrowly endemic taxa. One such taxon, Hyalella montezuma, is the sole planktonic filter-feeder within the North American amphipod fauna, and is known only from Montezuma Well, a fishless travertine spring mound in Arizona, USA. In this study, we conduct a phylogenetic analysis of mtDNA sequence data using likelihood, Bayesian and cladistic approaches to determine both the relationship of H. montezuma to the H. ‘azteca’ species complex, and to ascertain if its morphological and ecological differentiation have been comparatively recent. The results show that H. montezuma has a very close phylogenetic affiliation with one lineage in the H. azteca complex, indicating that its origin has been recent. We present evidence suggesting that fish predation is an important ecological factor, which constrains morphological and ecological diversification within the genus Hyalella, and that Montezuma Well has provided a relaxation on this constraint.