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Keywords:

  • endemism;
  • freshwater biodiversity;
  • molecular systematics;
  • novel species;
  • southern African freshwater crabs

Phylogenetic relationships amongst the southern African freshwater crab fauna are reinvestigated following the recent collection of morphologically distinct Potamonautes specimens from remote mountainous regions in Malawi and Mozambique. Specimens were subjected to DNA sequencing of three mtDNA loci, cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI), 12S rRNA, and 16S rRNA and compared to the 14 described species from the region. Phylogenetic analysis using maximum parsimony and Bayesian inference revealed the presence of two novel evolutionary lineages. The phylogeny demonstrates that Potamonautes obesus (A. Milne-Edwards, 1868) is sister to a morphologically distinct novel species from Mount Namuli in Mozambique. Two sympatric and genetically distinct species from Mount Mulanje, in Malawi (forms A and B) were recognized. Form B is sister to the large-bodied South African riverine freshwater crabs and represents a novel lineage whereas the remaining species (form A) from Mulanje, in Malawi was sister to samples from Mounts Inago and Mabu, and in Mozambique was identified as Potamonautes choloensis (Chace, 1953). The two novel evolutionary lineages were genetically distinct and morphologically different from the described species in each of the respective regions. Two new freshwater crab species Potamonautes namuliensis sp. nov. and Potamonautes mulanjeensis sp. nov., are described in the present study. The samples from Mount Mulanje in Malawi, and Mounts Mabu and Inago in Mozambique represent new distribution records for Potamonautes choloensis.

© 2012 The Linnean Society of London, Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2012, 164, 498–509.