Local adaptation to variable environments can generate clinal variation in morphological traits. Alternatively, similar patterns of clinal variation may be generated simply as a result of genetic drift/migration balance. Teasing apart these different processes is a continuing focus in evolutionary ecology. We compare genetic differentiation at molecular loci and quantitative traits to analyse the effect of these different processes in a morphological latitudinal cline of the barn swallow, Hirundo rustica, breeding across Europe. The results obtained show no structuring at neutral microsatellite loci, which contrasts with positive structuring at five quantitative morphometric traits. This supports the hypothesis that the observed morphometric cline in barn swallows is the result of selection acting in a spatially heterogeneous environment. © 2010 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2010, 99, 306–314.