The processes affecting species diversification may also exert an influence on patterns of genetic variability within species. We evaluated the contributions of five variables potentially influencing clade diversification (body size, reproductive mode, range size, microhabitat and skin texture) on mtDNA divergence and polymorphism among populations of 40 species of frogs (Mantellidae) from two rainforest communities in Madagascar. We report an inverse association between body size and nucleotide divergence between populations but find no influence of other variables on genetic variation. Body size explained ca. 11% of the variation in nucleotide divergence between populations and was coupled with high FST levels and an absence of haplotype sharing in small‐bodied and medium‐sized frogs. Low dispersal ability is likely the proximate mechanism producing higher population differentiation in small mantellids. The lack of genetic cohesion among populations establishes regional genetic fragmentation which in turn has the potential to accelerate rates of allopatric speciation in small frogs relative to large species. However, there is little evidence of increased speciation rates in these or other small‐bodied organisms. We reconcile these contradictory observations by suggesting that lower dispersal ability also curbs colonization of new areas, decelerating diversification in weak dispersers. Our results imply that the intermediate dispersal model also applies to amphibians and may explain inconsistent previous results on the correlation of body size and speciation rate.