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Abstract Aim To test whether environmental diversification played a role in the diversification of the New Caledonian Hydropsychinae caddisflies. Location New Caledonia, south-west Pacific. Methods The phylogeny of the New Caledonian Hydropsychinae caddisflies was hypothesized using parsimony and Bayesian methods on molecular characters. The Bayesian analysis was the basis for a comparative analysis of the correlation between phylogeny and three environmental factors: geological substrate (ultrabasic, non-ultrabasic), elevation and precipitation. Phylogenetic divergence times were estimated using a relaxed clock method, and environmental factors were mapped onto a lineage-through-time plot to investigate the timing of environmental diversification in relation to species radiation. The correlation between rainfall and elevation was tested using independent contrasts, and the gamma statistic was calculated to infer the diversification pattern of the group. Results The diversification of extant Orthopsyche–Caledopsyche species began in the Middle–Late Oligocene, when much of the island of New Caledonia was covered by ultrabasic substrate and mountain forming was prevalent. Most lineages originated in the Middle–Late Miocene, a period associated with long-term climate oscillation. Optimization of environmental factors on the phylogeny demonstrated that the New Caledonian Hydropsychinae group adapted to ultrabasic substrate early in its evolutionary history. The clade living mostly on ultrabasic substrate was far more species-rich than the clade living mostly on non-ultrabasic substrate. Elevation and rainfall were significantly correlated with each other. The lineage-through-time plot revealed that the main environmental diversification preceded species diversification. A constant speciation through time was rejected, and the negative gamma indicates that most of the diversification occurred early in the history of the clade. According to the inferred phylogeny, the genus Orthopsyche McFarlane is a synonym under Caledopsyche Kimmins, and Abacaria caledona Oláh & Barnard should also be included in Caledopsyche. Main conclusions The age of the radiation does not support a vicariance origin of New Caledonian Hydropsychinae caddisflies. Environmental diversification pre-dates lineage diversification, and thus environmental heterogeneity potentially played a role in the diversification of the group, by providing a variety of fragmented habitats to disperse into, promoting speciation. The negative gamma indicates that the speciation rate slowed as niches started to fill.