We use population genetics theory and computer simulations to demonstrate that population bottlenecks cause a characteristic mode-shift distortion in the distribution of allele frequencies at selectively neutral loci. Bottlenecks cause alleles at low frequency (<0.1) to become less abundant than alleles in one or more intermediate allele frequency class (e.g., 0.1-0.2). This distortion is transient and likely to be detectable for only a few dozen generations. Consequently only recent bottlenecks are likely to be detected by tests for distortions in distributions of allele frequencies. We illustrate and evaluate a qualitative graphical method for detecting a bottleneck-induced distortion of allele frequency distributions. The simple novel method requires no information on historical population sizes or levels of genetic variation; it requires only samples of 50 20 polymorphic loci and approximately 30 individuals. The graphical method often differentiates between empirical datasets from bottlenecked and nonbottlenecked natural populations. Computer simulations show that the graphical method is likely (P > .80) to detect an allele frequency distortion after a bottleneck of ≤20 breeding individuals when 8 to 10 polymorphic microsatellite loci are analyzed.