Organisms living in the marine rocky intertidal zone compete for space. This, together with predation, physical disruption, and differing species tolerances to physiological stress, explains the structure of the ecological communities at some sites. At other sites the supply of larvae is limiting, and events in the offshore waters, such as wind-driven upwelling, explain the composition of intertidal communities. Whether the community ecology at a site is governed by adult-adult interactions within the site, or by limitations to the supply of larvae reaching the site, is determined by the regional pattern of circulation in the coastal waters. Models combining larval circulation with adult interactions can potentially forecast population fluctuations. These findings illustrate how processes in different ecological habitats are coupled.