The common occurrence of parallel phenotypic patterns suggests that a strong relationship exists between ecological dynamics and micro-evolution. Comparative studies from a large number of populations under varying sets of ecological drivers could contribute to a better understanding of this relationship. We used data on morphology of arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus) and ecological factors from 35 Icelandic lakes to test the hypothesis that morphological patterns among monomorphic charr populations from different lakes are related to interlake variation in ecological characteristics. There is extensive phenotypic diversity among populations of Icelandic charr, and populations are easily distinguished based on overall body morphology. The results obtained in the present study showed that the morphological diversity of charr was related to large-scale diversity in lake ecology. Variation in charr morphology was related to water origin (e.g. spring fed versus run-off), bedrock age, and fish community structure. The present study shows how various ecological factors can shape the biological diversity that we observe. © 2011 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2011, 103, 761–771.