The colonization of Europe by the freshwater crustacean Asellus aquaticus (Crustacea: Isopoda) proceeded from ancient refugia and was directed by habitat connectivity


Rudi Verovnik, Fax: +386 1257 33 90; E-mail:


Recent continental-scale phylogeographic studies have demonstrated that not all freshwater fauna colonized Europe from the classic Mediterranean peninsular refugia, and that northern or central parts of the continent were occupied before, and remained inhabited throughout the Pleistocene. The colonization history of the ubiquitous aquatic isopod crustacean Asellus aquaticus was assessed using mitochondrial COI and a variable part of nuclear 28S rDNA sequences. Phylogeographic analysis of the former suggested that dispersion proceeded possibly during late Miocene from the western part of the Pannonian basin. Several areas colonized from here have served as secondary refugia and/or origins of dispersion, well before the beginning of the Pleistocene. Postglacial large-scale range expansion was coupled with numerous separate local dispersions from different refugial areas. Connectivity of the freshwater habitat has played an important role in shaping the current distribution of genetic diversity, which was highest in large rivers. The importance of hydrographic connections for the maintenance of genetic contact was underscored by a discordant pattern of mtDNA and nuclear rDNA differentiation. Individuals from all over Europe, differing in their mtDNA to a level normally found between species or even genera (maximal within population nucleotide divergence reached 0.16 ± 0.018), shared the same 28S rRNA gene sequence. Only populations from hydrographically isolated karst water systems in the northwestern Dinaric Karst had distinct 28S sequences. Here isolation seemed to be strong enough to prevent homogenization of the rRNA gene family, whereas across the rest of Europe genetic contact was sufficient for concerted evolution to act.