Negative density dependence (NDD) of recruitment is pervasive in tropical tree species. We tested the hypotheses that seed dispersal is NDD, due to intraspecific competition for dispersers, and that this contributes to NDD of recruitment. We compared dispersal in the palm Attalea butyracea across a wide range of population density on Barro Colorado Island in Panama and assessed its consequences for seed distributions. We found that frugivore visitation, seed removal and dispersal distance all declined with population density of A. butyracea, demonstrating NDD of seed dispersal due to competition for dispersers. Furthermore, as population density increased, the distances of seeds from the nearest adult decreased, conspecific seed crowding increased and seedling recruitment success decreased, all patterns expected under poorer dispersal. Unexpectedly, however, our analyses showed that NDD of dispersal did not contribute substantially to these changes in the quality of the seed distribution; patterns with population density were dominated by effects due solely to increasing adult and seed density.