Unravelling the history of range shifts is key for understanding past, current and future species distributions. Anthropogenic transport of species alters natural dispersal patterns and directly affects population connectivity. Studies have suggested that high levels of anthropogenic transport homogenize patterns of genetic differentiation and blur colonization pathways. However, empirical evidence of these effects remains elusive. We compared two range-shifting species (Microcosmus squamiger and Ciona robusta) to examine howanthropogenic transport affects our ability to reconstruct colonization pathways using genomic data. We first investigated shipping networks from the 18th century onwards, cross-referencing these with regions where the species have records to infer how each species has potentially been affected by different levels of anthropogenic transport. We then genotyped thousands of single-nucleotide polymorphisms from 280 M. squamiger and 190 C. robusta individuals collected across their extensive species’ ranges and reconstructed colonization pathways. Differing levels of anthropogenic transport did not preclude the elucidation of population structure, though specific inferences of colonization pathways were difficult to discern in some of the considered scenario sets.We conclude that genomic data in combination with information of underlying introduction drivers provide key insights into the historic spread of range-shifting species. This article is part of the theme issue ‘Species’ ranges in the face of changing environments (part I)’.