Alpine species may be losing habitat because of global warming. Setting management priorities for such species is thus urgent and cannot be achieved without data on population structure. We studied the structure of rock ptarmigan (Lagopus mutus) populations in the Pyrenees, Alps and Norway, using six microsatellites. We found that rock ptarmigan in the Pyrenees were genetically impoverished compared with those in the Alps and Norway, and displayed a greater divergence (Pyrenees vs. Alps or Norway: theta(ST) = 0.16, Alps vs. Norway, theta(ST) = 0.04). In the Alps, despite a weak genetic differentiation between localities up to 200 km apart (theta(ST) = 0.011), a significant isolation-by-distance (IBD) effect was detected. When computed for each sex separately this IBD effect was significant for males but not for females, suggesting that males are highly philopatric.