Despite intensified interest in conservation of tropical forests, knowledge of the population genetics of tropical forest trees remains limited. We used random amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) data to evaluate trends in genetic diversity and differentiation for four tropical tree species, Alchornea latifolia, Dendropanax arboreus, Inga thibaudiana and Protium glabrum. These species occur at contrasting population densities along an elevational gradient and we use RAPD and ecological data to examine natural levels of genetic diversity of each species, trends in genetic variability with population density and structure, genetic differentiation along the elevation gradient, and the relationship between genetic diversity and such factors as seed dispersal and pollination syndrome. At the distances we examined (plot distances ranging from 0.8 to 8.6 km) there was very little genetic structuring at any distance along the gradient. All four species exhibited levels of variation expected for spatial distribution, mating system and pollinator syndrome; greater than 96% of the genetic variation occurred within plots for Inga thibaudiana, Protium glabrum and Dendropanax arboreus. Alchornea latifolia only occurred in a single plot. The results of this study contribute to a growing database of genetic diversity data that can be utilized to make predictions about the effect of disturbance and subsequent reductions in population size on genetic variation and structure in tropical tree species.