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Abstract Aim We examined the genetic structure of Quercus garryana to infer post-glacial patterns of seed dispersal and pollen flow to test the hypotheses that (1) peripheral populations are genetically distinct from core populations and from one another; (2) genetic diversity declines towards the poleward edge of the species’ range; and (3) genetic diversity in the chloroplast genome, a direct measure of seed dispersal patterns, declines more sharply with increasing latitude than diversity in the nuclear genome. We address our findings in the context of known historical oak distribution from pollen core data derived from previously published research. Location Oak–savanna ecosystems from southern Oregon, USA (core populations/non-glaciated range) northward to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada (peripheral populations/glaciated range). Methods We genotyped 378 trees from 22 sites with five chloroplast and seven nuclear microsatellite loci. For both sets of markers, we estimated genetic diversity and differentiation using an analysis of molecular variance and generated Mantel correlograms to detect genetic and geographical distance correlations. For the nuclear markers, we also used a Bayesian approach to infer population substructure. Results There was a large degree of population differentiation revealed by six chloroplast haplotypes, with little (≤ 3) or no haplotype diversity within sites. Peripheral island locations shared the same, maternally inherited chloroplast haplotype, whereas locations in mainland Washington had greater haplotype diversity. In contrast, genetic diversity of the nuclear markers was high at all locations sampled. Populations clustered into two groups and were significantly positively correlated over large spatial scales (≤ 200 km), although allele richness decreased significantly with latitude. Population substructure was observed between core and peripheral populations because rare alleles were absent in peripheral localities and common allele frequencies differed. Main conclusions The observed pattern of chloroplast haplotype loss at the northern periphery suggests restricted seed dispersal events from mainland sites to peripheral islands. This pattern was unexpected, however, as refugial oak populations remained near the current post-glacial range even during the Last Glacial Maximum. Using nuclear markers, we found high within-population diversity and population differentiation only over large spatial scales, suggesting that pollen flow is relatively high among populations.