The evolutionary relationships between island and mainland faunas of the 24 species of insular freshwater crabs in the Afrotropical region are reviewed in the light of phylogenetic studies. Twenty insular species of freshwater crabs are endemic, and four are also found on the neighboring mainland of Africa. The Atlantic Ocean islands of Sherbro, Bioko, Príncipe, and São Tomé support five species of Potamonautidae, while the Western Indian Ocean islands of the Seychelles, Zanzibar, Pemba, Mafia, and Madagascar together have 16 species of Potamonautidae, and Socotra has three species of Potamidae. Disjunct distributions of non-endemic insular species of Afrotropical freshwater crabs with conspecifics on the mainland are the result of past lower sea levels that once united islands with the coast. The presence of endemic species of freshwater crabs on oceanic volcanic islands (such as Príncipe and São Tomé) separated from the mainland by deep seas is probably the result of transoceanic dispersal. Endemic genera of freshwater crabs found on oceanic ‘Gondwanan’ islands are derived from ancestral populations on the Eurasian (Socotra) or African (The Seychelles and Madagascar) mainlands that probably reached there by transoceanic dispersal, rather than their being the vicariant descendents of Gondwanan ancestors. Species of freshwater crabs found on islands in the Afrotropical region are either not unique, or are endemic at the species or genus level. The degree of endemism depends on the island’s geological history: whether it is part of the continental shelf, an oceanic island of volcanic origin, or a former part of the ancient continent of Gondwana.

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Contributions to Zoology

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Naturalis journals & series

Cumberlidge, N. (2008). Insular species of Afrotropical freshwater crabs (Crustacea: Decapoda: Brachyura: Potamonautidae and Potamidae) with special reference to Madagascar and the Seychelles. Contributions to Zoology, 77(2), 71–81.