The species composition, density, and frequency of recruitment into any given habitat are highly variable in most biological systems that rely on dispersive propagules (larvae, seeds, spores, etc.). There are few direct experimental studies of how recruitment variation between single species influences the composition and assembly of whole communities in many of these systems. We manipulated recruitment of a variety of single taxa and followed their effects on the subsequent development of hard-substrate communities of sessile animals living in temperate marine waters. The effects of recruitment on communities were complex. Patterns of recruitment of individual species influenced community structure, but these effects varied greatly depending on the identity of species recruits, the time of community development, and location across three different sites. Variable recruitment of arborescent bryozoans and didemnid ascidians had little effect on community structure. At one site, recruitment of the colonial ascidian Botryllus schlosseri had short-lived effects on community structure, while barnacles had more persistent effects. At another site, recruitment of B. schlosseri and the bryozoan Watersipora subtorquata had strong persistent effects on community structure, dominating space where they recruited and influencing the abundances of a variety of different taxa. Differences in the effects of species recruitment on communities appear to be caused by differences between the ecology and life history of recruiting species as well as differences in background processes between sites. These results demonstrate that discrete recruitment events that vary between single species can be important drivers of community composition but are likely to be heavily influenced by the local environment, even within a single species.