Medicago laciniata is restricted to south of the Mediterranean basin and it extends in Tunisia from the inferior semi-arid to Saharan stages, whereas M. truncatula is a widespread species in such areas. The genetic variability in four Tunisian sympatric populations of M. laciniata and M. truncatula was analysed using 19 quantitative traits and 20 microsatellites. We investigated the amplification transferability of 52 microsatellites developed in M. truncatula to M. laciniata. Results indicate that about 78·85% of used markers are valuable genetic markers for M. laciniata. M. laciniata displayed significantly lower quantitative differentiation among populations (QST=0·12) than did M. truncatula (QST=0·45). However, high molecular differentiations, with no significant difference, were observed in M. laciniata (FST=0·48) and M. truncatula (FST=0·47). Several quantitative traits exhibited significantly smaller QST than FST for M. laciniata, consistent with constraining selection. For M. truncatula, the majority of traits displayed no statistical difference in the level of QST and FST. Furthermore, these traits are significantly associated with eco-geographical factors, consistent with selection for local adaptation rather than genetic drift. In both species, there was no significant correlation between genetic variation at quantitative traits and molecular markers. The site-of-origin explains about 5·85% and 11·27% of total quantitative genetic variability among populations of M. laciniata and M. truncatula, respectively. Established correlations between quantitative traits and eco-geographical factors were generally more moderate for M. laciniata than for M. truncatula, suggesting that the two species exhibit different genetic bases of local adaptation to varying environmental conditions. Nevertheless, no consistent patterns of associations were found between gene diversity (He) and environmental factors in either species.