• Anisoptera;
  • damselfly;
  • endemics;
  • faunal elements;
  • faunal regions;
  • glacial refugia;
  • postglacial;
  • range shifts;
  • Zygoptera

The biogeography of the western Palearctic has been intensively studied for more than a century. Recent advances in genetics have allowed the testing of old theories based on distribution patterns, although these analyses are obviously restricted to a reduced number of specific genetic data sets. On the other hand, an increased knowledge on the distributions of species and advances in computer capacities have allowed more detailed biogeographical analyses based on species presence/absence. In the present study, we selected the Odonata as the study group. For all 162 species native to the western Palearctic, we compiled their respective presence or absence in 97 predefined biogeographical regions. Using cluster analyses and principal component analyses, both based on Jaccard similarity coefficients, we analysed the differentiation among these regions and species. In subsequent analyses, the data set was reduced to the Zygoptera, Anisoptera, and the western Palearctic endemics. All analyses consistently showed different faunal regions and faunal elements. In particular, the (1) western and (2) eastern Mediterranean; (3) Central and (4) Northern Europe; and (5) the British Isles were invariably found in all cases. Although the two major Mediterranean regions were characterized by several endemic faunal elements, Northern Europe and the British Isles lacked such elements, but were characterized by faunal compositions strongly deviating from the rest of the western Palearctic region. Moderate differences between Zygoptera and Anisoptera existed, with the latter more clearly redrawing the Mediterranean refuge areas, whereas the former reflected to a greater extent the postglacial expansion patterns from these regions. In general, our findings underline the old biogeographical theories, but refine especially our understanding of the Atlanto- and Ponto-Mediterranean region. Central Europe, comprising the area with the highest species numbers of our whole study region, unravels as a crossroad of postglacial immigrations, but might also represent a region of in situ glacial survival. © 2010 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2010, 99, 177–195.