Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) have the potential to become the genetic marker of choice in studies of the ecology and conservation of natural populations because of their capacity to access variability across the genome. In this study, we provide one of the first demonstrations of SNP discovery in a wild population in order to address typical issues of importance in ecology and conservation in the recolonized Scandinavian and neighbouring Finnish wolf Canis lupus populations. Using end sequence from BAC (bacterial artificial chromosome) clones specific for dogs, we designed assays for 24 SNP loci, 20 sites of which had previously been shown to be polymorphic in domestic dogs and four sites were newly identified as polymorphic in wolves. Of the 24 assayed loci, 22 SNPs were found to be variable within the Scandinavian population and, importantly, these were able to distinguish individual wolves from one another (unbiased probability of identity of 4.33 x 10(-8)), providing equivalent results to that derived from 12 variable microsatellites genotyped in the same population. An assignment test shows differentiation between the Scandinavian and neighbouring Finnish wolf populations, although not all known immigrants are accurately identified. An exploration of the misclassification rates in the identification of relationships shows that neither 22 SNP nor 20 microsatellite loci are able to discriminate across single order relationships. Despite the remaining obstacle of SNP discovery in nonmodel organisms, the use of SNPs in ecological and conservation studies is encouraged by the advent of large scale screening methods. Furthermore, the ability to amplify extremely small fragments makes SNPs of particular use for population monitoring, where faecal and other noninvasive samples are routinely used.