Microsatellite diversity at 18 loci was analysed in 94 individual plants of 10 wild barley, Hordeum spontaneum (C. Koch) Thell., populations sampled from Israel across a southward transect of increasing aridity. Allelic distribution in populations was not distributed randomly. Estimates of mean gene diversity were highest in stressful arid-hot environments. Sixty-four per cent of the genetic variation was partitioned within populations and 36% between populations. Associations between ecogeographical variables and gene diversity, He, were established in nine microsatellite loci. By employing principle component analysis we reduced the number of ecogeographical variables to three principal components including water factors, temperature and geography. At three loci, stepwise multiple regression analysis explained significantly the gene diversity by a single principal component (water factors). Based on these observations it is suggested that simple sequence repeats are not necessarily biologically neutral.