Recent research suggests that alluvial aquifers in southern and eastern Australia may contain a diverse subterranean aquatic fauna (i.e. stygofauna). However, to date only a limited number of alluvial aquifers have been studied and little molecular data are available to assess species-level diversity and spatial patterns of genetic variation within stygofaunal species. In this paper, we present the initial results of a stygofaunal survey of the Burdekin River alluvial aquifer in Queensland, extending the northern range of alluvial aquifers along the east coast of Australia that have been investigated. The survey resulted in the collection of bathynellid stygofauna (Syncarida: Bathynellacea) and genetic analyses were conducted to determine species level diversity using the mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase subunit I (COI) gene. We further investigated the phylogenetic relationships of the species with bathynellids from western and southern Australia to assess the generic status of species. Four highly divergent COI lineages within the Parabathynellidae and one lineage within the Bathynellidae were found. These lineages did not group within any described genera, and phylogenetic analyses indicated that both local radiations and the retention of a lineage that was more apical in the genealogy account for the diversity within the Parabathynellidae in the Burdekin River alluvial aquifer. Most COI lineages were sampled from only a single bore, although one taxon within the Parabathynellidae was found to be more widespread in the aquifer. Haplotypes within this taxon were not shared among bores (ΦST = 0.603, P < 0.001). Overall, the high species diversity for bathynellaceans from an alluvial aquifer reported here, and surveys of bathynellaceans in several other alluvial systems in south-eastern Australia, suggests that groundwater ecosystems of eastern Australia may contain high stygofaunal diversity by Australian and world standards, particularly at the generic level for parabathynellids.
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Vol. 60 • No. 3