Evolutionary history of true crabs (Crustacea: Decapoda: Brachyura) and the origin of freshwater crabs

Mol Biol Evol. 2014 May;31(5):1173-87. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msu068. Epub 2014 Feb 11.


Crabs of the infra-order Brachyura are one of the most diverse groups of crustaceans with approximately 7,000 described species in 98 families, occurring in marine, freshwater, and terrestrial habitats. The relationships among the brachyuran families are poorly understood due to the high morphological complexity of the group. Here, we reconstruct the most comprehensive phylogeny of Brachyura to date using sequence data of six nuclear protein-coding genes and two mitochondrial rRNA genes from more than 140 species belonging to 58 families. The gene tree confirms that the "Podotremata," are paraphyletic. Within the monophyletic Eubrachyura, the reciprocal monophyly of the two subsections, Heterotremata and Thoracotremata, is supported. Monophyly of many superfamilies, however, is not recovered, indicating the prevalence of morphological convergence and the need for further taxonomic studies. Freshwater crabs were derived early in the evolution of Eubrachyura and are shown to have at least two independent origins. Bayesian relaxed molecular methods estimate that freshwater crabs separated from their closest marine sister taxa ~135 Ma, that is, after the break up of Pangaea (∼200 Ma) and that a Gondwanan origin of these freshwater representatives is untenable. Most extant families and superfamilies arose during the late Cretaceous and early Tertiary.

Keywords: Gondwana; Heterotremata; Podotremata; Thoracotremata; freshwater crabs; molecular phylogeny.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Brachyura / classification*
  • Brachyura / genetics*
  • DNA, Ribosomal / genetics
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Fossils
  • Fresh Water
  • Genes, Mitochondrial
  • Genetic Speciation
  • Models, Genetic
  • Phylogeny
  • Time Factors


  • DNA, Ribosomal