The distribution of the lizard Lacerta schreiberi is likely to have been severely affected by the climatic cycles that have influenced the Iberian Peninsula. Information about the species ecology and Iberian physiogeography was used to generate specific hypotheses about episodes of colonization and subsequent population persistence. These hypotheses generated predictions about the distribution of genetic variation, which were tested using nested clade analysis (NCA) supplemented by analysis of molecular variance (amova). Two predictions were confirmed by NCA; that is those that specified multiple and allopatric refugia. However, the remaining three predictions were not corroborated by the analyses. Firstly, a simple analysis of the distribution of genetic variability failed to detect an expected difference in the pattern of colonization between the inland mountain system and the coastal region. Moreover, while NCA did detect the expected genetic pattern in southern coastal populations, it was explained in terms of long-distance migration, which seems implausible because of the extent of unsuitable habitat. A more likely cause of the pattern is population fragmentation and a reduction in population size caused during the Holocene. Finally, NCA also failed to detect a northwestern population expansion, which is supported by other evidence. We conclude that NCA has a limited ability to detect range expansion led by individuals with more ancestral (interior) haplotypes.