Subterranean archipelago in the Australian arid zone: mitochondrial DNA phylogeography of amphipods from central Western Australia


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March 2007


In 1998, a unique subterranean ecosystem was discovered in numerous isolated calcrete (carbonate) aquifers in the arid Yilgarn region of Western Australia. Previous morphological and genetic analyses of a subterranean water beetle fauna suggest that calcrete aquifers are equivalent to closed island habitats that have been isolated for millions of years. We tested this hypothesis further by phylogeographic analyses of subterranean amphipods (Crangonyctoidea: Paramelitidae and Hyalidae) using mitochondrial DNA sequence data derived from the cytochrome oxidase I gene. Phylogenetic analyses and population genetic analyses (samova) provided strong evidence for the existence of at least 16 crangonyctoid and six hyalid divergent mitochondrial lineages, each restricted in their distribution to a single calcrete aquifer, in support of the ‘subterranean island (archipelago) hypothesis’ and extending its scope to include entirely water respiring invertebrates. Sequence divergence estimates between proximate calcrete populations suggest that calcretes have been isolated at least since the Pliocene, coinciding with a major aridity phase that led to the intermittent drying of surface water. The distribution of calcretes along palaeodrainage channels and on either side of drainage divides, have had less influence on the overall phylogeographic structure of populations, with evidence that ancestral crangonyctoid and hyalid species moved between catchments multiple times prior to their isolation within calcretes. At least two potential modes of evolution may account for the diversity of subterranean amphipod populations: dispersal/vicariance of stygobitic species or colonization of calcretes by surface species and independent evolution of stygobitic characteristics.


Amphipod, Cytochrome Oxidase I, Mitochondrial DNA, Phylogeography, Stygofauna

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Molecular Ecology, Vol. 16, no. 7 (2007-03-26).