We review the potential use of haploid chromosomes in molecular ecology, using recent work on the human Y chromosome as a paradigm. Chromosomal sex-determination systems, and hence constitutively haploid chromosomes, which escape from recombination over much of their length, have evolved multiple times in the animal kingdom. In mammals, where males are the heterogametic sex, the patrilineal Y chromosome represents a paternal counterpart to mitochondrial DNA. Work on the human Y chromosome has shown it to contain the same range of polymorphic markers as the rest of the nuclear genome and these have rendered it the most informative haplotypic system in the human genome. Examples from research on the human Y chromosome are used to illustrate the common interests of anthropologists and ecologists in investigating the genetic impact of sex-specific behaviours and dispersals, as well as patterns of global diversity. We present some methodologies for extracting information from these uniquely informative yet under-utilized loci.