Distinguishing the roles of propagule limitation and niche requirements in controlling plant species distributions is important for understanding community structure, invasion, and restoration. We used species distribution models based on plant and environmental survey data to assess the strength of species’ affinities for particular environmental conditions. We hypothesized that species with statistically detectable environmental requirements were primarily niche-limited, while species with weak habitat affinities were primarily propagule-limited. We tested this hypothesis via a seeding experiment in which we compared species’ reproductive fitness in occupied and unoccupied sites. Species that appeared to be niche-limited based on distribution models had lower fitness when planted in unoccupied sites, while species that models suggested were propagule-limited had equivalent fitness when planted in occupied and unoccupied sites. Our results demonstrate that within a single community, both species limited primarily by niche availability or primarily by propagule availability can be identified using observational data.