The arid Yilgarn region of Western Australia contains numerous subterranean calcrete aquifers with unique assemblages of obligate groundwater invertebrates (stygofauna). We aimed to establish a DNA barcoding framework for the macro-invertebrates present in a single calcrete, as a basis for future assessment of biodiversity of the Yilgarn calcretes and for investigating food webs. Intense sampling of a bore field grid in the Sturt Meadows calcrete was undertaken to obtain representatives of the entire macro-invertebrate ecosystem. A 623-bp fragment of the mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase 1 (COI) gene was used to provide DNA barcodes for stygobiont macro-invertebrates plus terrestrial organisms that are found in the calcrete. Phylogenetic analyses revealed the existence of 12 divergent monophyletic groups of haplotypes. Subterranean amphipods (Chiltoniidae) showed three groups of COI haplotypes with sequence divergences between them of >11%. Allozyme analyses found a large number of fixed allelic differences between these three amphipod groups, indicating that there are three morphologically cryptic species within the Sturt Meadows calcrete. Unlike the sister triplet of dytiscid beetles present, the amphipods are not sister clades and are more closely related to other Yilgarn and non-Yilgarn amphipods than to each other. Our results show that the aquifer contains at least 12 macro-invertebrate species and DNA barcoding provides a useful means for discriminating species in this system. © 2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.