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The limits of cryptic diversity in groundwater: phylogeography of the cave shrimp Troglocaris anophthalmus (Crustacea: Decapoda: Atyidae)


Valerija Zakšek, Fax: +386 1 257 33 90; E-mail:


Recent studies have revealed high local diversity and endemism in groundwaters, and showed that species with large ranges are extremely rare. One of such species is the cave shrimp Troglocaris anophthalmus from the Dinaric Karst on the western Balkan Peninsula, apparently uniform across a range of more than 500 kilometres. As such it contradicts the paradigm that subterranean organisms form localized, long-term stable populations that cannot disperse over long distances. We tested it for possible cryptic diversity and/or unexpected evolutionary processes, analysing mitochondrial (COI, 16S rRNA) and nuclear (ITS2) genes of 232 specimens from the entire range. The results of an array of phylogeographical procedures congruently suggested that the picture of a widespread, continuously distributed and homogenous T. anophthalmus was wrong. The taxon is composed of four or possibly five monophyletic, geographically defined phylogroups that meet several species delimitation criteria, two of them showing evidence of biological reproductive isolation in sympatry. COI genetic distances between phylogroups turned out to be a poor predictor, as they were much lower than the sometimes suggested crustacean threshold value of 0.16 substitutions per site. Most results confirmed the nondispersal hypothesis of subterranean fauna, but the southern Adriatic phylogroup displayed a paradoxical pattern of recent dispersal across 300 kilometres of hydrographically fragmented karst terrain. We suggest a model of migration under extreme water-level conditions, when flooded poljes could act as stepping-stones. In the north of the range (Slovenia), the results confirmed the existence of a zone of unique biogeographical conflict, where surface fauna is concordant with the current watershed, and subterranean fauna is not.