• elasticity;
  • matrix analysis;
  • plant demography;
  • succession

Abstract Progress in plant demography will depend upon being able to synthesize a large body of data and this requires a means of comparing populations between sites and species. We have employed a comparative technique using elasticity analysis of stage-projection matrices to partition the contributions of fecundity (F), survival (L) and growth (G) to the finite rate of increase λ. Ordination of populations of 77 perennial herbs and trees in G-L-F space has shown that species segregate in this triangular space according to their life history and habitat. In the present paper we use the correspondence between demographic parameters and habitat revealed by this method to predict how succession and a variety of environmental factors such as grazing and fire are likely to alter the demography of populations and ultimately to change the composition of communities.