The Pleistocene geological history of the Hawaiian Islands is becoming well understood. Numerous predictions about the influence of this history on the genetic diversity of Hawaiian organisms have been made, including the idea that changing sea levels would lead to the genetic differentiation of populations isolated on individual volcanoes during high sea stands. Here, we analyse DNA sequence data from two closely related, endemic Hawaiian damselfly species in order to test these predictions, and generate novel insights into the effects of Pleistocene glaciation and climate change on island organisms. Megalagrion xanthomelas and Megalagrion pacificum are currently restricted to five islands, including three islands of the Maui Nui super-island complex (Molokai, Lanai, and Maui) that were connected during periods of Pleistocene glaciation, and Hawaii island, which has never been subdivided. Maui Nui and Hawaii are effectively a controlled, natural experiment on the genetic effects of Pleistocene sea level change. We confirm well-defined morphological species boundaries using data from the nuclear EF-1?? gene and show that the species are reciprocally monophyletic. We perform phylogeographic analyses of 663 base pairs (bp) of cytochrome oxidase subunit II (COII) gene sequence data from 157 individuals representing 25 populations. Our results point to the importance of Pleistocene land bridges and historical island habitat availability in maintaining inter-island gene flow. We also propose that repeated bottlenecks on Maui Nui caused by sea level change and restricted habitat availability are likely responsible for low genetic diversity there. An island analogue to northern genetic purity and southern diversity is proposed, whereby islands with little suitable habitat exhibit genetic purity while islands with more exhibit genetic diversity. ?? 2005 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.