We examined allelic variation at 22 nuclear-encoded markers (21 microsatellites and one anonymous locus) and mitochondrial (mt)DNA in two geographical samples of the endangered cyprinid fish Notropis mekistocholas (Cape Fear shiner). Genetic diversity was relatively high in comparison to other endangered vertebrates, and there was no evidence of small population effects despite the low abundance reported for the species. Significant heterogeneity (following Bonferroni correction) in allele distribution at three microsatellites and in haplotype distribution in mtDNA was detected between the two localities. This heterogeneity may be due to reduced gene flow caused by a dam built in the early 1900s. Bayesian coalescent analysis of microsatellite variation indicated that effective population size of Cape Fear shiners has declined in recent times (11–25 435 years ago, with highest posterior probabilities between 126 and 2007 years ago) by one–two orders of magnitude, consistent with the observed decline in abundance of the species. A decline in effective size was not indicated by analysis of mtDNA, where sequence polymorphism appeared to carry the signature of an older expansion phase that dated to the Pleistocene (∼12 700 > 1 million years ago). Cape Fear shiners thus appear to have undergone an expansion phase following a glacial cycle but to have declined significantly in more recent times. These results suggest that rapidly evolving markers such as microsatellites may constitute a suitable tool when inferring recent demographic dynamics of populations.