The twentieth anniversary of the journal Molecular Ecology was celebrated with a symposium on the current state and the future directions of the field. The event, organized by Tim Vines and Loren Rieseberg, took place on the opening day of the First Joint Congress on Evolutionary Biology organized by the American Society of Naturalists (ASN), the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution (CSEE), the European Society for Evolutionary Biology (ESEB), the Society for the Study of Evolution (SSE) and the Society of Systematic Biologists (SSB) in Ottawa (Canada) from 6–10 July 2012. The get together of these five societies created a truly international and exciting “Evolution conference” and the ideal framework for the Molecular Ecology symposium. Its thirteen talks were grouped into the five different subject areas of the journal: Speciation and Hybridization; Landscape Genetics, Phylogeography and Conservation; Ecological Genomics and Molecular Adaptation; Kinship, Parentage and Behaviour; Ecological Interactions. Each session was followed by a panel discussion on the future direction of the subfield. That more than 300 colleagues registered for this special symposium illustrates the broad interest in, and appreciation of, molecular ecology – both the field and the journal.