The six endemic isopod species of Lake Baikal have been regarded as a small species flock with uncertain affinities to related asellids. We provide evidence from 16S rRNA sequences for polyphyletic origins of Baikalian Asellidae. One clade of two species is related to the Eurasian genus Asellus. The other clade, Baicalasellus, shows affinities to North American asellids and may have a long evolutionary history within the lake basin. Some speciation events within Baicalasellus clearly have a chromosomal basis. In contrast with numerous taxa exhibiting monophyletic radiations in ancient lakes, the endemic Baikalian isopods arose by multiple invasions and chromosomal mechanisms.