Knowledge of the evolutionary processes that shaped a biota is important for both academic and conservation purposes. The objective of the present study is to analyse the mitochondrial genetic variation of Xiphorhynchus fuscus (Aves: Dendrocolaptidae) from the southern Atlantic forest in Brazil and Argentina, and to discuss whether the results support different hypotheses regarding the local intraspecific diversification of this species. We sequenced 575 bp of the control region of 114 specimens collected in the Brazilian states of Bahia, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Paraná, and Santa Catarina, and in the province of Misiones in Argentina. We studied the population genetic structure with analysis of molecular variance and the demographic history with multiple regression analysis, coalescence simulations, and demographic tests. Xiphorhynchus fuscus presented a significant population genetic structure (Φst = 0.57). Three mitochondrial lineages were described, one associated with Xiphorhynchus fuscus tenuirostris and the others with Xiphorhynchus fuscus fuscus. The data did not support the primary influence of geographical barriers or rivers in the intraspecific diversification of X. fuscus in the southern Atlantic forest. Instead, the data supported the influence of isolation by geographical distance, recent vicariance events, and demographic expansions apparently related to Pleistocene and Holocene forest dynamics. © 2007 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2007, 91, 73–84.