Restriction fragment profiles generated by hybridization of hypervariable minisatellite DNA probes have been used for paternity analysis but not for comparisons at the level of populations, because the profiles are thought to evolve too rapidly to be informative over large time intervals. But in small isolated populations, the fixation of restriction-fragment polymorphisms can outpace the generation of fragment-length variability through recombination. Here we report on an analysis of DNA fingerprints of the California Channel Island fox (Urocyon littoralis). These foxes comprise an island dwarf species found only on six of the Channel Islands off the coast of southern California. Variability of restriction-fragment profiles within fox populations, as indicated by the average percentage difference (APD), varied widely among the islands, from 0.0% (no variation) to 25.3%. The APDs between populations were considerably greater (43.8% to 84.4%). In addition, foxes on each island can be distinguished by the presence of diagnostic restriction fragments. Maximum parsimony and phenetic trees relating foxes from different islands are consistent with the archaeozoological and geological record. Therefore, in small populations of genetically isolated mammals, differences among hypervariable restriction-fragment profiles can be used to estimate relative genetic variability and to reconstruct the evolutionary relationships of natural populations.