Recent theoretical and empirical studies of phylogeography and population structure indicate that many processes influence intraspecific evolutionary history. The present study represents the first examination of various forces influencing the spatial and temporal patterns of sequence variation in the freshwater Mexican banded spring snail, Mexipyrgus churinceanus. This snail occurs in one of the most critically endangered centres of freshwater endemism, the desert ecosystem of Cuatro Ciénegas. From cytochrome b mtDNA sequence variation, there is strong evidence of long-term isolation of three regions, suggesting that these regions represent evolutionarily distinct lineages. Molecular clock estimates of clade age indicate a time to most recent common ancestor of approximately 2.5 million years ago (Ma). The three regions differ considerably in the historical and demographic forces affecting population structure. The western populations have extremely low mtDNA diversity consistent with a severe bottleneck dating to 50 000 years before present (bp). The nearby Rio Mesquites drainage is characterized by fragmentation events, restricted gene flow with isolation by distance, and higher levels of mtDNA polymorphism. These patterns are consistent with the long-term stability of this drainage along with habitat heterogeneity and brooding contributing to population isolation and restricted gene flow. Southeastern populations show evidence of range expansion and a strong influence of genetic drift. Migration rates between drainages indicate very little gene flow between drainages except for asymmetric migration from the Rio Mesquites into both western and southeastern drainages.