• 12S;
  • 16S;
  • 18S;
  • Black Sea;
  • Caspian Sea;
  • cytochrome c oxidase subunit I;
  • endemics;
  • marine Cladocera;
  • predatory Cladocera;
  • speciation;
  • zooplankton


Members of the order Cladocera show remarkable morphological and ecological diversity. One of the most spectacular adaptive radiations in this group has involved species of the suborder Onychopoda, which have adopted a novel feeding strategy, predation, and have colonized habitats with a broad range of salinities. In order to evaluate the origins and systematics of this group, we derived a molecular phylogeny for its three component families including nine of 10 recognized genera based on three mitochondrial (mt) gene sequences: cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI), the ribosomal small and large subunits (12S and 16S) and one nuclear gene sequence: the small ribosomal subunit (18S). Maximum-parsimony, maximum-likelihood and neighbour-joining phylogenetic analyses were largely congruent, supporting the monophyly of the suborder and each of its families. Comparative analyses of data based on total evidence and the conditional combination of the ribosomal genes produced relatively congruent patterns of phylogenetic affinity. By contrast, analyses of single gene results were inconsistent in recovering the monophyletic groups identified by the multigene analyses. Based on the reconstructed phylogeny, we discriminate among the existing hypotheses regarding the evolutionary history of the onychopods. We identify a prolonged episode of speciation from the Miocene to the Pleistocene with two pulses of diversification. We discuss our results with reference to the geological history of the Ponto-Caspian basin, the region which fostered the onychopod radiation.