1. Nucleotide sequences of a 280 base pair region of the cytochrome b gene were used to assess genetic diversity and to infer population histories in the New Zealand mayfly Acanthophlebia cruentata.
2. A hierarchial examination of populations from 19 streams at different spatial scales in the central and northern North Island of New Zealand found 34 haplotypes. A common haplotype was found in all central region streams and unique haplotypes in northern streams. Several central streams had region specific haplotypes with genetically differentiated populations at the 70–100 km scale.
3. Haplotype diversity was high (0.53–0.8) at most sites, but low (0–0.22) in some central sites. amova analyses found significant genetic diversity among regions (69%) and among catchments (58%). Most population pairwise FST tests were significant, with non-significant pairwise tests among sites in the central region and pairs of sites between neighbouring streams.
4. The levels of sequence divergence are interpreted as the result of Pleistocene divergence in multiple refugia, leading to the evolution of regionally unique haplotypes. The low diversity in some central region populations may result from recent colonisation following local extinctions, associated with volcanic events.