• colonization;
  • gene flow;
  • microsatellites;
  • mitochondrial DNA;
  • range expression

The major subspecies group of the great tit, Parus major, has experienced demographic and spatial expansions during the last century in several sites at the edges of its distribution range. These expansions, although temporarily very even, have resulted in dissimilar patterns of molecular diversity. Populations locating at regions of contact to other subspecies groups (in Amur, Kirghizia–Kazakhstan, and Iran) show divergence from central population by nuclear and mitochondrial markers. In Amur, gene flow from minor group could be detected based on the existence of private minor alleles in the major population. In Kirghizia and Kazakhstan, the bokharensis and major groups share almost all the microsatellite alleles detected though frequencies differ. In Iran, three geographically close populations are distinct according to the mitochondrial sequences but also indications of present or recent admixture is detected. Populations, which have expanded to regions previously unoccupied by the species (northern UK and Finland), show divergence only by one of the markers. The variability in molecular differentiation may be due to dissimilar expansions, depending on whether the colonized regions have previously been occupied by another subspecies or not, on the amount of colonizing birds, and on the amount of past and present gene flow. © 2007 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2007, 90, 201–210.