The burbot (Lota lota Linnaeus, 1758) is the only freshwater species from the cod family. Various taxonomic hypotheses were tested against molecular data by sequencing the mitochondrial cytochrome b locus of 120 burbot from 41 populations together with the related species Molva molva (ling) and Brosme brosme (tusk), which represented the other Lotinae genera. Within the genus Lota two distinct phylogroups were observed: one in North America south of the Great Slave Lakes (Lota lota maculosa) and one in Eurasia and the remainder of the Nearctic region (Lota lota lota). The burbot lineage separated 10 Myr BP from the other Lotinae, while the genetic variation within burbot appeared to be approximately 1 Myr old. However, fossil evidence suggested that burbot already existed in the Early Pliocene in Europe, from were it probably colonized North America in the Early Pleistocene. While Nearctic burbot survived climatic oscillations and diverged in several refugia, the Eurasian form became extinct or was reduced to a very small population. In the Late Pleistocene the species recolonized the Palearctic region to establish its present distribution range.