1. Zebra mussels and their relatives (Dreissena spp.) have been well studied in eastern, central and western Europe as well as in North America, because of their invasiveness and economic importance. Much less is known about the biology and biogeography of indigenous (endemic) taxa of Dreissena, in the Balkans. A better knowledge of these taxa could help us (i) understand the factors triggering invasiveness in some taxa and (ii) identify other potentially invasive species.
2. Using a phylogenetic approach (2108 base pairs from three gene fragments), Dreissena spp. from natural lakes in the Balkans were studied to test whether invasive Dreissena populations occur in such lakes on the Balkan Peninsula, whether Dreissena stankovici really is endemic to the ancient Lakes Ohrid and Prespa, and to infer the phylogenetic and biogeographical relationships of Balkan dreissenids.
3. No invasive species of Dreissena, such as Dreissena polymorpha, were recorded. The supposedly ‘endemic’D. stankovici is not restricted to the ancient Lakes Ohrid and Prespa, but is the most widespread and dominant species in the west-central Balkans. Its southern sister taxon, Dreissena blanci, occurs sympatrically with D. stankovici in Lakes Prespa, Mikri Prespa and Pamvotis. Both species are classified into the subgenus Dreissena (Carinodreissena) of which the subgenus Dreissena (Dreissena) (which includes the invasive D. polymorpha) is the sister taxon. Dreissena blanci and D. stankovici are considered to represent distinct species.
4. On a global scale, the two Balkan species have small ranges. An early Pliocene time frame for the divergence of the subgenera Carinodreissena and Dreissena is discussed, as well as potential colonization routes of the most recent common ancestor of Carinodreissena spp.
5. The ambiguous taxonomy of dreissenids in the Balkans is addressed. As nominal D. blanci presbensis from Lake Prespa has nomenclatural priority over D. stankovici, the correct name for the latter taxon should be Dreissena presbensis.