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The Death Valley system (southeastern California and southwestern Nevada) contains a locally endemic aquatic biota that has long been the subject of compelling biogeographic speculation, yet it remains little studied phylogenetically. Springsnails (Hydrobiidae: Pyrgulopsis) are one of the most diverse elements of this fauna, and they are thought to have evolved in association with late Tertiary rearrangements of landscape and drainage. We assembled a molecular phylogeny for this fauna to investigate its evolutionary development in relation to regional geological history. Sequences for two mitochondrial genes were obtained from 80 populations representing 13 of the 14 Death Valley system springsnail species, and 31 extralimital congeners. Combined analyses of the 1188 base-pair data set consistently depicted the Death Valley system fauna as a polyphyletic assemblage of eight or nine lineages. Based on a molecular clock, the six lineages endemic to the Death Valley system were estimated to be minimally Pliocene in age, which is concordant with inception of regional topographic closure during this time period. The single endemic lineage with a well-resolved sister relationship was closest to a species from the upperGila Riverbasin, which also suggests an old divergence event. Three other lineages shared a pattern of shallow structuring (divergence events youngerthan 0.7 Ma) across multiple drainage basins, some of which have long been isolated. This suggests that, contrary to previous thought, regional springsnail biogeography has been shaped in part by geologically recent (Pleistocene) dispersal, and, in some places, it has occurred by means other than spread through continuous reaches of aquatic habitat.

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