High-latitude ecotonal populations at the species margins may exhibit altered patterns of genetic diversity, resulting from more or less recent founder events and from bottleneck effects in response to climate oscillations. Patterns of genetic diversity were investigated in nine populations of the conifer black spruce (Picea mariana[Mill.] BSP.) in northwestern Québec, Canada, using seed-dispersed mitochondrial (mt) DNA and nuclear (nc) DNA. mtDNA diversity (mitotypes) was assessed at three loci, and ncDNA diversity was estimated for nine expressed sequence tag polymorphism (ESTP) loci. Sampling included populations from the boreal forest and the southern and northern subzones of the subarctic forest-tundra, a fire-born ecotone. For ncDNA, populations from all three vegetation zones were highly diverse with little population differentiation (θN = 0.014); even the northernmost populations showed no loss of rare alleles. Patterns of mitotype diversity were strikingly different: within-population diversity and population differentiation were high for boreal forest populations [expected heterozygosity per locus (HE) = 0.58 and θM = 0.529], but all subarctic populations were fixed for a single mitotype (HE = 0). This lack of variation suggests a founder event caused by long-distance seed establishment during postglacial colonization, consistent with palaeoecological data. The estimated movement of seeds alone (effective number of migrants per generation, NmM < 2) was much restricted compared to that estimated from nuclear variants, which including pollen movement (NmN > 17). This could account for the conservation of a founder imprint in the mtDNA of subarctic black spruce. After reduction, presumably in the early Holocene, the diversity in ncDNA would have been replenished rapidly by pollen-mediated gene flow, and maintained subsequently through vegetative layering during the current cooler period covering the last 3000 years.