Population genetic characteristics are shaped by the life-history traits of organisms and the geologic history of their habitat. This study provides a neutral framework for understanding the population dynamics and opportunities for selection in Semibalanus balanoides, a species that figures prominently in ecological and evolutionary studies in the Atlantic intertidal. We used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region (N = 131) and microsatellite markers (∼40 individuals/site/locus) to survey populations of the broadly dispersing acorn barnacle from 8 sites spanning 800 km of North American coast and 1 site in Europe. Patterns of mtDNA sequence evolution were consistent with larger population sizes in Europe and population expansion at the conclusion of the last ice age, approximately 20 000 years ago, in North America. A significant portion of mitochondrial diversity was partitioned between the continents (ϕ(ST) = 0.281), but there was only weak structure observed from mtDNA within North America. Microsatellites showed significant structuring between the continents (F(ST) = 0.021) as well as within North America (F(ST) = 0.013). Isolation by distance in North America was largely driven by a split between populations south of Cape Cod and all others (P < 10(-4)). The glacial events responsible for generating allelic diversity at mtDNA and microsatellites may also be responsible for generating selectable variation at metabolic enzymes in S. balanoides.