As part of a Global Biodiversity Hotspot, the conservation of Sri Lanka’s endemic biodiversity warrants special attention. With 51 species (50 of them endemic) occurring in the island, the biodiversity of freshwater crabs is unusually high for such a small area (65 600 km2). Freshwater crabs have successfully colonized most moist habitats and all climatic and elevational zones in Sri Lanka. We assessed the biodiversity of these crabs in relation to the different elevational zones (lowland, upland and highland) based on both species richness and phylogenetic diversity. Three different lineages appear to have radiated simultaneously, each within a specific elevational zone, with little interchange thereafter. The lowland and upland zones show a higher species richness than the highland zone while – unexpectedly – phylogenetic diversity is highest in the lowland zone, illustrating the importance of considering both these measures in conservation planning. The diversity indices for the species in the various IUCN Red List categories in each of the three zones suggest that risk of extinction may be related to elevational zone. Our results also show that overall more than 50% of Sri Lanka’s freshwater crab species (including several as yet undescribed ones), or approximately 72 million years of evolutionary history, are threatened with extinction.