We evaluated the use of amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) markers to distinguish genotypes, populations and species of Lolium. Accessions of two species Lolium perenne and Lolium multiflorum and their hybrid Lolium × hybridum, collected by the Institute of Grass and Environmental Research in 1995 from locations across Portugal, were used. The genetic variation within and between populations from the extremes of latitude and altitude was determined and assessed. Three primer pair combinations generated 765 polymorphic bands. Principal coordinate analysis of similarities between 127 plants showed high dimensionality in the data. Axes 1–3 were associated primarily with species differences, axes 4–14 with population differences within species and axis 15 onwards with within population differences. UPGMA analysis confirmed the groupings. The three populations of L. perenne formed a discrete cluster widely separated from all other populations. There were two distinct groups of L. × hybridum, of which one was similar to and overlapped with L.multiflorum and the second formed a distinct cluster. Analyses of individual bands showed that every inter- and intraspecific contrast involved a different sets of bands, again confirming the high dimensionality of the data. No single band was strictly diagnostic of any population or species. Nevertheless, the UPGMA analysis showed little or no overlap between populations. Thus, despite the high ratio of within-to-between population genetic variance, the full AFLP banding pattern of each genotype is a relatively reliable fingerprint diagnostic of its parent population. The high dimensionality implies that many different factors contribute to the differences observed. This adds to the potential value of the methodology, since it implies that there is a reasonably high likelihood of finding bands relevant to a given environmental gradient or other factor influencing the distribution of genetic diversity.