We combined demographic and genetic data to evaluate the effects of habitat fragmentation on the population structure of the California red-backed vole (Clethrionomys californicus). We analysed variation in the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region and five nuclear microsatellite loci in small samples collected from two forest fragments and an unfragmented control site in 1990–91. We intensively sampled the same forest fragments and two different control sites in 1998 and 1999. Vole abundances fluctuated greatly at sizes below 50 individuals per fragment. Fragment populations had significantly lower mtDNA allelic diversity than controls, but not nuclear heterozygosity or numbers of alleles. The use of only trapping and/or mtDNA marker data would imply that fragment populations are at least partially isolated and vulnerable to inbreeding depression. In contrast, the abundance estimates combined with microsatellite data show that small fragment populations must be linked to nearby forests by high rates of migration. These results provide evidence for the usefulness of combining genetic and demographic data to understand nonequilibrium population structure in recently fragmented habitats.