We could not start this review, literally from the beginning, without expressing our sadness over the passing of Professor Robert R. Sokal. We are sure, nevertheless, that the importance of his scientific achievements will ensure he is long remembered. In this modest tribute to Professor Sokal, we highlight his contributions to the field of population genetics and spatial statistical methods. Specifically, we discuss how two papers, co-authored with Professor N. L. Oden and published in the pages of the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society in 1978, revolutionized the field of analytical population genetics. In these papers, Sokal and Oden created an elegant framework for inferring evolutionary processes (e.g. isolation-by-distance, demic diffusion, selection gradients, genetic drift) from the spatial autocorrelation analysis of genetic variation patterns. We also highlight the pivotal importance of Sokal's work to the development of emerging fields (e.g. landscape and conservation genetics). We hope this virtual issue containing the papers that Professor Sokal published in BJLS, and later, related papers by other researchers, will help to remember his work and maintain his legacy of spatial analysis in genetics, ecology, and evolutionary biology. © 2012 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2012, ••, ••–••.