Natural abundance is shaped by the abiotic requirements and biotic interactions that shape a species' niche, yet these influences are rarely decoupled. Moreover, most plant mortality occurs during early life stages, making seed recruitment critical in structuring plant populations. We find that natural abundance of two woodland herbs, Hexastylis arifolia and Hepatica nobilis, peaks at intermediate resource levels, a pattern probably formed by concurrent abiotic and biotic interactions. To determine how this abundance patterning reflects intrinsic physiological optima and extrinsic biotic interactions, we translocate adults and seeds to novel locations across experimentally extended abiotic gradients. These experiments indicate that the plant distributions probably reflect biotic interactions as much as physiological requirements, and that adult abundance provides a poor indication of the underlying niche requirements. The positive response exhibited by adult transplants in the wettest conditions is offset by increased fungal attack on buried seeds consistent with peak natural abundance where soil moisture is intermediate. This contraction of niche space is best described by Connell's model--species are limited by physiological tolerances where resources are low and biotic interactions where resources are high.