Studies of the impacts of climate and climate change on biological systems often attempt to correlate ecological responses with basin-scale indices such as the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). However, such correlations, while useful for detecting long-term trends, are unable to provide a mechanism linking the physical environment and ecological processes. Here we evaluate the effects of the NAO on recruitment variability of rocky intertidal invertebrates in the North Atlantic examining two possible climate-related pathways. Using a highly conservative test we interpret associations with the NAO integrated over a season (three months) as an indicator of atmospheric effects on newly settled recruits (NAO3), and the effects of the NAO integrated over six months (NAO6) as an indicator of changes in ocean circulation affecting patterns of larval transport. Through an extensive literature survey we found 13 time series, restricted to southwest Ireland and Britain and comprising five species, that could be used for statistical analysis. Significant correlations with NAO3, our proxy for atmospheric effects, were observed in the south-central domain of our study region (southwest Ireland and south England). Significant correlations with NAO6, the proxy for ocean circulation effects, were detected on southwest Ireland. The associations were detected for three (two barnacles and a topshell) at two sites. These results suggest that the NAO can have effects on the recruitment of intertidal invertebrates through different pathways linked to climate and be distributed heterogeneously in space. Based on previous evidence and the sign and geographic location of significant correlations, we suggest that winter NAO effects are likely to occur as a result of effects on the survival of early life stages settling during spring or through changes in phenology. Our results argue that a combination of modeling and synthesis can be used to generate hypotheses regarding the effects of climate on recruitment and aid in the design of field-based tests of explicit ecological mechanisms.