We examined the effect of increasing the number of sampled amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) bands to reconstruct an accurate and well-supported AFLP-based phylogeny. In silico AFLP was performed using simulated DNA sequences evolving along balanced and unbalanced model trees with recent, uniform and ancient radiations and average branch lengths (from the most internal node to the tip) ranging from 0.02 to 0.05 substitutions per site. Trees were estimated by minimum evolution (ME) and maximum parsimony (MP) methods from both DNA sequences and virtual AFLP fingerprints. The comparison of the true tree with the estimated AFLP trees suggests that moderate numbers of AFLP bands are necessary to recover the correct topology with high bootstrap support values (i.e. >70%). Fewer numbers of bands are necessary for shorter tree lengths and for balanced than for unbalanced tree topologies. However, branch length estimation was rather unreliable and did not improve substantially after a certain number of bands were sampled. These results hold for different levels of genome coverage and number of taxa analysed. In silico AFLP using bacterial genomic DNA sequences recovered a well-supported tree topology that mirrored an empirical phylogeny based on a set of 31 orthologous gene sequences when as few as 263 AFLP bands were scored. These results suggest that AFLPs may be an efficient alternative to traditional DNA sequencing for accurate topology reconstruction of shallow trees when not very short ancestral branches exist.