Recent molecular research on Antarctic benthic organisms has challenged traditional taxonomic classifications, suggesting that our current perceptions of Antarctic biodiversity and species distributions must be thoroughly revised. Furthermore, genetic differentiation at the intraspecific level remains poorly understood, particularly in eastern Antarctica. We addressed these issues using DNA sequence data for two sibling amphipod species that could be collected on a circum-Antarctic scale: Eusirus perdentatus and Eusirus giganteus. Haplotype networks and Bayesian phylogenies based on mitochondrial (COI, CytB) and nuclear (ITS2) DNA provided strong evidence of multiple cryptic species of Eusirus, with several occurring in sympatry and at least one likely to have a true circum-Antarctic distribution. Within species, gene flow was often highly restricted, consistent with a brooding life history and in some cases suggestive of current or future allopatric speciation. Patterns of genetic structure were not always predictable: one cryptic species showed preliminary evidence of high genetic differentiation across ∼150 km in eastern Antarctica (FST > 0.47, P < 0.01), yet another was remarkably homogenous across ∼5000 km (FST = 0.00, P = 1.00). Genetic diversity also varied among cryptic species, independent of sample size (π = 0.00–0.99). These results indicate several hidden levels of genetic complexity in these Antarctic amphipods that are neither apparent from previous taxonomic or ecological studies nor predictable from their life history. Such genetic diversity and structure may reflect different modes of survival for Antarctic benthic organisms during historic glacial cycles, and/or subsequent re-establishment of populations on the shelf, and highlight our misunderstanding of Antarctic marine species diversity.
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