The insertion site numbers of the retrotransposable elements (TE) 412, gypsy and bilbo were determined in individuals of five distinct natural populations of the endemic species Drosophila madeirensis from the island of Madeira. The TE distributions were compared to those of the paleartic, widespread and phylogenetically closely related species, D. subobscura. In situ hybridization and Southern blots showed that in D. madeirensis the number of insertion sites ranged between 10 and 15, three and six, and 35 and 42 for elements 412, gypsy and bilbo, respectively. The corresponding values for D. subobscura were similar. Two of these elements, 412 and gypsy, had very few insertions in the heterochromatin, unlike bilbo, which displayed a high heterochromatic insertion number. The Southern band polymorphism was very high, leading to within-population variation of 97.2%, whatever the population and the TE concerned. Using the polymorphic TE insertion sites as markers to analyse population structure by amova, adapted for RAPD (Randomly Amplified Polymorphic DNA) data, we found small but significant genetic differences between the populations on Madeira. This slight differentiation, coupled with similar copy numbers for each TE between populations, suggests that the D. madeirensis species consists of a single, only slightly subdivided population. These data also show that insular populations and endemic species of Drosophila can have as many copies of TEs as more widespread species.