Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) represent the most widespread type of sequence variation in genomes, yet they have only emerged recently as valuable genetic markers for revealing the evolutionary history of populations. Their occurrence throughout the genome also makes them ideal for analyses of speciation and historical demography, especially in light of recent theory suggesting that many unlinked nuclear loci are needed to estimate population genetic parameters with statistical confidence. In spite of having lower variation compared with microsatellites, SNPs should make the comparison of genomic diversities and histories of different species (the core goal of comparative biogeography) more straightforward than has been possible with microsatellites. The most pervasive, but correctable, complication to SNP analysis is a bias towards analyzing only the most variable loci, an artifact that is usually introduced by the limited number of individuals used to screen initially for polymorphisms. Although the use of SNPs as markers in population studies is still new, innovative methods for SNP identification, automated screening, haplotype inference and statistical analysis might quickly make SNPs the marker of choice.