A population is exposed to disruptive selection if more than one phenotype has optimal fitness and intermediate phenotypes have lower fitnesses. Maintenance of the two or more optima may depend upon their relative fitnesses being frequency dependent. Such selection may be expected in two contrasting types of situation. First the two or more optimal phenotypes may depend on one another as do the two sexes in a bisexual species. Secondly the optima may be set by heterogeneity of the environment. Then we may think in terms of a mosaic of ecological niches or a clinal situation, and may expect that gene flow will tend to promote convergence of the sub-populations while disruptive selection tends to promote their divergence. Disruptive selection may therefore be relevant both to the evolution and maintenance of polymorphisms and to the divergence of parts of populations one from another, under the influence of variation of ecological conditions within the range of gametic and/or zygotic dispersal. Disruptive selection has been shown to be capable of increasing phenotypic and genetic variance, of producing and maintaining polymorphisms, of causing divergence of sub-populations between which substantial gene exchange occurs, and of splitting a population into two which are genetically isolated from one another. These results are reviewed and their relevance to natural populations discussed.