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Recruitment is a key demographic step for population persistence. This paper focuses on understanding barnacle (Semibalanus balanoides) recruitment. In rocky intertidal habitats from the Gulf of St. Lawrence coast of Nova Scotia (Canada), winter ice scour is common. At the onset of intertidal barnacle recruitment in the spring, mostly only adult barnacles and bare substrate are visible at high elevations on the shore. We conducted a multiannual study to investigate if small-scale barnacle recruitment could be predicted from the density of pre-existing adult barnacles. In a year that exhibited a wide adult density range (ca. 0–130 individuals dm-2), the relationship between adult density and recruit density (referred to the available area for recruitment, which excluded adult barnacles) was unimodal. In years that exhibited a lower adult density range (ca. 0–40/50 individuals dm-2), the relationship between adult and recruit density was positive but simply resembling the lower half of the unimodal relationship. Overall, adult barnacle density was able to explain 26–40 % of the observed variation in recruit density. The unimodal adult–recruit relationship is consistent with previously documented intraspecific interactions. Between low and intermediate adult densities, the positive nature of the relationship relates to the ability of adult barnacles to attract settlement-seeking larvae, likely enhancing local population persistence where it is most needed. Between intermediate and high adult densities, where population persistence may be less compromised and the abundant adults may be detrimental to recruit growth, the negative nature of the relationship suggests that larvae are stimulated to settle elsewhere. This unimodal pattern may be particularly common on shores with moderate rates of larval supply to the shore, as high larval supply rates may swamp the coast with settlers, decoupling recruit density from local adult abundance.