Abstract A theoretical analysis of the concept of recruitment limitation leads to the conclusion that most populations should he regarded as jointly limited by recruitment and interactions between individuals after recruitment. The open nature of local marine systems does not permit avoidance of density-dependent interactions; it simply may make them more difficult to detect. Local populations consisting of settled organisms may not experience density-dependent interactions under some circumstances, but the entire species population consisting of the collection of local populations and their planktonic larvae must have density-dependent dynamics. Any local population of settled individuals can escape density dependence if sufficient density dependence occurs among planktonic larvae or within other local populations. Common conceptions of density dependence are too narrow, leading too often to the conclusion that it is absent from a system. It is equally wrong to expect that density-dependent interactions after settlement determine local population densities independently of recruitment. Special circumstances allowing density dependence to act strongly and quickly are needed before density dependence can neutralize the effects of recruitment. Recruitment limitation and density-dependent interactions therefore should not be regarded as alternatives but as jointly acting to determine the densities of marine benthic populations. Moreover, the interaction between fluctuating recruitment and density dependence is potentially the most interesting feature of recruitment limitation. For example, this interaction may be an important diversity-maintaining mechanism for marine systems.