Community genomic data have revealed multiple levels of variation between and within microbial consortia. This variation includes large-scale differences in gene content between ecosystems as well as within-population sequence heterogeneity. In the present review, we focus specifically on how fine-scale variation within microbial and viral populations is apparent from community genomic data. A major unresolved question is how much of the observed variation is due to neutral vs. adaptive processes. Limited experimental data hint that some of this fine-scale variation may be in part functionally relevant, whereas sequence-based and modeling analyses suggest that much of it may be neutral. While methods for interpreting population genomic data are still in their infancy, we discuss current interpretations of existing datasets in the light of evolutionary processes and models. Finally, we highlight the importance of virus-host dynamics in generating and shaping within-population diversity. © 2008 The Authors.