We investigated the responses of two co-existing Mediterranean trees with different regeneration strategies (Phillyrea latifolia seedlings and Quercus ilex sprouts) to experimental drought below the forest canopy. We considered different recruitment stages and used leaf isotopic discrimination to estimate water use efficiency (WUE) and nitrogen availability and use. Drought decreased the emergence and survival of seedlings and sprouts. Survival and growth of older saplings were not influenced by drought. Seedling emergence of P. latifolia was higher than Q. ilex sprout production, but Q. ilex sprouts had higher survival and growth rates. These differences disappeared in the sapling stage. Carbon isotopic discrimination suggested that Q. ilex sprouts had higher WUE than P. latifolia seedlings. Drought increased WUE of recruits, particularly in Q. ilex. Water use regulation increased with ageing, particularly in P. latifolia. Q. ilex had higher δ15N values than P. latifolia; these were also higher under drier soil conditions. Current year seedlings had higher δ15N than saplings, particularly in P. latifolia, suggesting they exploit superficial soil layers. These results suggest that sprouts obtain benefit from resources stored in parent plants. At earlier stages, they perform better than seedlings. This response is not coupled to adult vulnerability to drought for these species, revealing the difficulty of predicting species dynamics during climate change.