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The understanding of how variation of demographic rates translates into variation of population growth is a central aim in population ecology. Besides stochastic and deterministic factors, the spatial extent and the isolation of a local population may have an impact on the contribution of the different demographic components. Using long-term demographic data we performed retrospective population analyses of four little owl (Athene noctua) populations with differential spatial extent and degree of isolation to assess the contribution of demographic rates to the variation of the growth rate (λ) of each local population and to the difference of λ among populations. In all populations variation of fecundity contributed least to variation of λ, and variation of adult survival contributed most to variation of λ in three of four populations. Between population comparisons revealed that differences mainly stem from differences of immigration and juvenile local survival. The relative importance of immigration to λ tended to decrease with increasing spatial extent and isolation of the local populations. None of the four local populations was self-sustainable. Because the local populations export and import individuals, they can be considered as open recruitment systems in which part of the recruited breeding birds are not produced locally. The spatial extent and the degree of isolation of a local population have an impact on local population dynamics; hence these factors need to be considered in studies about local population dynamics and for deriving conservation measures.