• Bayesian phylogeny;
  • Cyprinidae;
  • freshwater dispersal routes;
  • historical biogeography;
  • Lago Mare;
  • Leuciscinae;
  • Mediterranean;
  • Messinian Salinity Crisis


Aim  To test the importance of the Lago Mare stage of the Messinian Salinity Crisis for the dispersal and diversification of European leuciscins (Cyprinidae: Leuciscinae).

Location  Europe.

Methods  Cytochrome b sequences of European leuciscins were employed to investigate phylogenetic relationships among species, using Bayesian inference, and to estimate times of diversification, using a relaxed molecular clock. The distributions of 190 European leuciscins were compiled, and regional species compositions were compared using a taxonomic similarity index and an area cladogram.

Results  Leuciscins restricted to the Iberian and Italian peninsulas and the West and South Balkan regions are phylogenetically more closely related to northern European species than to species from another southern European area. Application of a relaxed molecular clock to a Bayesian phylogeny indicates that most southern clades originated and diversified prior to the Messinian. Southern European regions are taxonomically distinct from one another, and from a more taxonomically homogeneous group of areas that includes Anatolia, East Balkans, Middle East, North Europe and West Russia.

Main conclusions  The scenario of a Messinian period of dispersal of Paratethyan fauna into Mediterranean regions, via the Lago Mare, predicts a rapid period of diversification and a pattern of close association among southern European faunas. Phylogenetic relationships among leuciscins, the timing of cladogenic events, and the taxonomic similarity among geographical regions do not conform to this expectation. The depth of clades endemic to southern Europe, together with the high levels of endemism in these regions, suggests that the faunas in these regions diverged prior to the Messinian and have evolved largely in isolation from one another. Our results support a model of gradual colonization of Mediterranean regions since the Oligocene. Subsequent connections between adjacent areas may have occurred in the Messinian or Pleistocene.