Background: Transposable elements (TEs) constitute an important source of genetic variability owing to their jumping and regulatory properties, and are considered to drive species evolution. Several factors that are able to induce TE transposition in genomes have been documented (for example environmental stress and inter- and intra-specific crosses) but in many instances the reasons for TE mobilisation have yet to be elucidated. Colonising populations constitute an ideal model for studying TE behaviour and distribution as they are exposed to different environmental and new demographic conditions. In this study, the distribution of two TEs, Osvaldo and Isis, was examined in two colonising populations of D. buzzatii from Australia. Comparing Osvaldo copy numbers between Australian and Old World (reported in previous studies) colonisations provides a valuable tool for elucidating the colonisation process and the effect of new conditions encountered by colonisers on TEs. Results: The chromosomal distributions of Osvaldo and Isis retrotransposons in two colonising populations of D. buzzatii from Australia revealed sites of high insertion frequency (>10%) and low frequency sites. Comparisons between Osvaldo insertion profiles in colonising populations from the Old World and Australia demonstrate a tendency towards a higher number of highly occupied sites with higher insertion frequency in the Old World than in Australian populations. Tests concerning selection against deleterious TE insertions indicate that Isis is more controlled by purifying selection than Osvaldo. The distribution of both elements on chromosomal arms follows a Poisson distribution and there are non-significant positive correlations between highly occupied sites and chromosomal inversions. Conclusions: The occupancy profile of Osvaldo and Isis retrotransposons is characterised by the existence of high and low insertion frequency sites in the populations. These results demonstrate that Australian D. buzzatii populations were subjected to a founder effect during the colonisation process. Moreover, there are more sites with high insertion frequency in the Old World colonisation than in the Australian colonisation, indicating a probable stronger bottleneck effect in Australia. The results suggest that selection does not seem to play a major role, compared to demography, in the distribution of transposable elements in the Australian populations. © 2011 García Guerreiro and Fontdevila; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.