Three endemic Cretan land snail species of the genus Mastus (Beck, 1837) from the island group of Koufonisi (south-east Crete) and the eastern part of Crete, were studied by multivariate analysis of shell morphology and analysis of mtDNA sequences. The phylogeny of the populations studied and the processes effecting the genetic and morphological diversity of the species were investigated. Extremely high mtDNA sequence divergence was observed both within and between populations. The Cretan populations could not be distinguished morphologically, while the populations of the islets were more distinct. We argue that the active geological past of the area (including sea level changes) and the long-term presence of humans has produced a mixing up of Mastus populations leading to the accumulation of high divergence of mtDNA sequences on a small spatial scale. The limited morphological diversity and the distinct shell ‘identity’ of the islets’ populations can be attributed to the selective pressures of the island group. © 2003 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2003, 78, 383–399.