Populations of many species are currently being fragmented and reduced by human interactions. These processes will tend to reduce genetic diversity within populations and reduce individual heterozygosities because of genetic drift, inbreeding and reduced migration. Conservation biologists need to know the effect of population size on genetic diversity, as this is likely to influence a population's ability to persist. Island populations represent an ideal natural experiment with which to study this problem. In a study of common shrews (Sorex araneus) on offshore Scottish islands, 497 individuals from 13 islands of different sizes and 6 regions on the mainland were trapped and genotyped at eight microsatellite loci. Previous genetic work had revealed that most of the islands in this study were highly genetically divergent from one another and the mainland. We found that most of the islands exhibited lower genetic diversity than the mainland populations. In the island populations, mean expected heterozygosity, mean observed heterozygosity and mean allelic richness were significantly positively correlated with log island size and log population size, which were estimated using habitat population density data and application of a Geographic Information System.