Understanding the genetics of colonizing populations has been, and continues to remain, an important focus in evolutionary biology. Different theoretical models predict varying levels of genetic variation in colonizing populations depending upon strength of founder effect, gene flow and rate of population growth and immigration following colonization. We analyse overall genetic variation using amplified fragment length polymorphism markers in colonizing populations of Hypochaeris tenuifolia (Asteraceae) in the southern Andes. Volcán Lonquimay newly erupted on 25 December 1988, producing a side cone, La Navidad, and sent lava and ash into surrounding areas. Many domesticated animals (estimated at 10 000) and many natural plant populations were destroyed. Into this new open habitat have come immigrant populations of several angiosperm species, most conspicuously H. tenuifolia that forms leaf rosettes with flowering scapes to 15 cm and orange–yellow heads 1–2 cm in diameter. Genetic diversity in five founder populations in the eruption zone is compared with that from five nearby survivor populations, as well as with eight isolated northern and four southern populations from throughout the entire range of the species in Chile. Results from 477 individuals representing 447 different multilocus phenotypes, yielded 170 DNA fragments of which 144 (85%) were polymorphic. Genetic diversity within founder populations is neither lower than in survivor populations nor in isolated populations throughout the range of the species, but it is lower among founder populations than among other populations immediately and distantly outside the zone of disturbance. Closest genetic similarity occurs between founders and nearby survivor populations as well as those in adjacent southern regions.