Priority effects occur when a species or genotype with earlier arrival has an advantage such that its relative abundance in the community or population is increased compared with later-arriving species. Few studies have dealt with this concept in the context of within-species competition. Skeletonema marinoi is a marine diatom that shows a high degree of genetic differentiation between populations over small geographical distances. To test whether historical events such as priority effects may have been important in inducing these patterns of population differentiation, we performed microcosm experiments with successive inoculation of different S. marinoi strains. Our results show that even in the absence of a numerical advantage, significant priority effects were evident. We propose that priority effects may be an important mechanism in initiating population genetic differentiation.