The influences of management practices and past demographic history on genetic diversity are of critical relevance to sustainable practices and the conservation of wildlife populations. The red deer (Cervus elaphus) is an interesting model species to address these questions because it has a wide geographical distribution and it has been intensively managed for humans in the last decades. In the present study, we have analyzed the impact of recent management practices on the genetic diversity of Iberian red deer populations and assessed the genetic variation effects on population and individual fitness-related traits. Four populations subjected to distinct management systems were selected: Cabañeros (CB) and Doñana (DN), not hunted populations; Fraga/Caspe (FG/CP), open hunting area with very low or absent management; and PE, fenced private hunting estate founded 31 years ago through the introduction of deer of different origins. Ten microsatellites were amplified in a total of 172 individuals. Additionally, several fitness-related traits such as the presence of tuberculosis compatible lesions (TBCL), spleen weight (SW), and body length (BL) were estimated. We found a marked genetic variation and differentiation among populations, suggesting a strong population structure. In the fenced population, the introduction of genetically distinct animals has led to high genetic variability (no evidence of inbreeding) despite intensive management. Lower levels of genetic diversity were observed in two historically isolated natural populations (DN and FG/CP). The past demographic history of Iberian populations appears to be more relevant than the current management policy in shaping the genetic variability of natural populations. Population genetic diversity may correlate with life-history traits and disease susceptibility, which could compromise the conservation and management of these wildlife populations. Although no significant effects of individual genetic diversity (general and local effect hypotheses) were observed on TBCL, SW and BL, some single-locus effects had almost significant trends for the TBCL and SW traits. © 2013 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2014, 111, 209–223.