Aim We investigate the phylogeographical history and determine the time-scale of population divergence of hydrobiid freshwater snails (genus Trochidrobia) inhabiting groundwater springs in the Australian desert. We test the hypothesis that divergence between geographically distinct snail populations occurred simultaneously due to their isolation in hydrologically discrete spring systems, i.e. ‘trapped in desert springs’.
Location Groundwater springs of the Great Artesian Basin (GAB) in central Australia.
Methods DNA sequence data from the mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase subunit I gene and the nuclear 28S and internal transcribed spacer rRNA genes were used to reconstruct phylogenetic relationships within and among three species of Trochidrobia (Hydrobiidae): T. punicea (13 spring groups, n = 90), T. smithi (12 spring groups, n = 62) and T. minuta (2 spring groups, n = 4). Bayesian relaxed molecular clock analyses and approximate Bayesian computation were used to date lineage divergence and distinguish between alternative biogeographical scenarios.
Results The diversification of the three Trochidrobia species probably occurred between 2.54 and 9.3 Ma, prior to the formation of the springs c. 1 Ma. Intraspecific divergences within the two widespread species occurred after the formation and colonization of the springs. Coalescent modelling and molecular clock analyses supported a simultaneous radiation of five allopatric intraspecific snail lineages within T. punicea (two lineages) and T. smithi (three lineages) across the GAB springs examined.
Main conclusions The analyses support the ‘trapped in desert springs’ hypothesis for the diversification of intraspecific lineages within the species T. punicea and T. smithi. This hypothesis suggests that the formation of deserts around Lake Eyre in the early Pleistocene led to the hydrological isolation of spring complexes in the GAB, resulting in significant molecular divergence, but no morphological divergence, of Trochidrobia snail populations.