Islands are choice settings for experimental studies of vector control strategies based on transgenic insects. Before considering this approach, knowledge of the population structure of the vector is essential. Genetic variation at 12 microsatellite loci was therefore studied in samples of the malaria vector Anopheles gambiae s.s., collected from six localities of São Tomé island (West Africa). The objectives were (i) to assess the demographic stability and effective population size of A. gambiae from these sites, (ii) to determine population differentiation and (iii) to relate the observed patterns of population structure with geographic, ecological and historical aspects of the vector on the island. Significant population differentiation, revealed by FST and RST statistics, was found between the southernmost site, Porto Alegre, and northern localities. The observed patterns of population substructure are probably a result of restrictions to gene flow in the less inhabited, more densely forested and mountainous south. In all localities surveyed, A. gambiae appeared to be experiencing a demographic expansion, consistent with a relatively recent (ca. 500 years) founder effect. The results are discussed with respect to current and future prospects of malaria vector control.