The population structure of Puccinia recondita f. sp. tritici (Prt) in western Europe was examined by assessing variability in pathogenicity and in randomly amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD) among 61 single uredinial isolates. The isolates were chosen to represent pathotypes detected in a previous survey of pathogenic variability in the fungus in western Europe in 1995. Thirty-five pathotypes were identified by assessing infection types produced by the 61 isolates on 24 differential lines, each with a single gene for resistance to Prt. In contrast, only 18 RAPD phenotypes were identified by scoring 19 polymorphic RAPD bands generated with eight RAPD primers. When analysed by cluster and bootstrap analyses, the pathogenicity and RAPD results revealed little evidence for robust distinct clusters among the isolates. Multiple isolates of several pathotypes collected from widely separated locations such as Belgium, Germany, France, Italy and Switzerland had the same RAPD phenotype, providing evidence of clonal migration over considerable distances in western Europe. Some variability (one or two band differences) was observed in RAPD phenotype within several pathotypes, indicating the possible occurrence of genetic changes independent of pathogenicity, and/or the independent development of pathotypes with different genetic backgrounds. Two groups of isolates identified in the 1995 survey, differentiated by pathogenicity for genes Lr3a, Lr3bg, Lr3ka and Lr30, were not distinguished by RAPD phenotype, indicating that the groups probably do not constitute separate lineages within the pathogen population. Little correlation was apparent between the polymorphisms observed in pathogenicity and RAPD phenotypes. The similarity in the genetic backgrounds of the isolates, as assessed by RAPD markers, suggest that the observed differences in pathogenicity may have arisen by selection for specific virulences corresponding to genes for resistance in wheat cultivars grown in the region. Three isolates of pathotype 3, restricted in its distribution to southern France during 1995, were distinct from all other isolates in RAPD phenotype. Circumstantial evidence suggests that this pathotype originated from northern Africa, and that it belongs to a group of leaf rust pathogens specialized to durum wheats.