Estimates of the effective number of breeding adults were derived for three semi-isolated populations of the common toad Bufo bufo based on temporal (i.e. adult-progeny) variance in allele frequency for three highly polymorphic minisatellite loci. Estimates of spatial variance in allele frequency among populations and of age-specific measures of genetic variability are also described. Each population was characterized by a low effective adult breeding number (Nb) based on a large age-specific variance in mini-satellite allele frequency. Estimates of Nb (range 21–46 for population means across three loci) were ≊ 55–230-fold lower than estimates of total adult census size. The implications of low effective breeding numbers for long-term maintenance of genetic variability and population viability are discussed relative to the species' reproductive ecology, current land-use practices, and present and historical habitat modification and loss. The utility of indirect measures of population parameters such as Nb and Ne based on time-series data of minisatellite allele frequencies is discussed relative to similar measures estimated from commonly used genetic markers such as protein allozymes.