Aim The freshwater flatworm Crenobia alpina lives almost exclusively in headwaters of mountainous areas and is supposed to be a glacial relict. We examined genetic diversity within and between populations of C. alpina in order to determine the taxonomic status of purported subspecies and to understand large-scale biogeographical patterns of glacial relicts.
Location Central Europe.
Methods We analysed mitochondrial DNA sequences and polymorphic allozyme loci of C. alpina populations across its range in central Europe. Sequences were compared using parsimony, minimum evolution and maximum likelihood. Allozymes were analysed using traditional as well as Bayesian estimates of F statistics.
Results We found considerable divergence between haplotypes. For each of the two lineages occurring throughout central Europe, allozymes showed considerable differentiation between populations and a strong isolation by distance effect. Hence populations are effectively isolated even across rather small spatial scales.
Main conclusions There is strong evidence that C. alpina is a complex of distinct lineages or cryptic species that date back to the late Miocene. The separation of lineages may be associated with the formation of deep valleys at the end of the Messinian Crisis.