Surveys of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) variation in the giant tiger prawn, Penaeus monodon, using restriction fragment length polymorphisms have provided the first clear evidence that the Indo-West Pacific region is a site of accumulation of genetic diversity rather than a site of origin of genetic diversity. No haplotyes were found in common between a group of five southeast African populations and a group of five Australian (including Western Australia) and three southeast Asian populations. The dominant haplotype was different in the Australian and southeast Asian population groups. Genetic diversity (π) was greatest in Indonesia (π averaged 0.05), less in the Philippines and Australia (π averaged 0.01), and markedly less in the southeast African and the West Australian populations (π averaged 0.003). The high diversity of the southeast Asian populations resulted from the occurrence in those populations of a set of haplotypes found only in southeast Asia but derived from the southeast African haplotypes. These genetic variants therefore evolved in the Indian Ocean and later migrated into the Indo-West Pacific region. Low genetic variation in the geographically marginal populations in southeast Africa and Western Australia is considered to be the result of bottlenecks, but mismatch distributions suggest that large population sizes have been maintained in Indonesian populations for long periods.