Aim: Large-scale patterns of limitations in tree recruitment remain poorly described in the Mediterranean Basin, and this information is required to assess the impacts of global warming on forests. Here, we unveil the existence of opposite trends of recruitment limitation between the dominant genera Quercus and Pinus on a large scale and identify the key ecological drivers of these diverging trends. Location: Spain Methods: We gathered data from the Spanish National Forest inventory to assess recruitment trends for the dominant species (Pinus halepensis, Pinus pinea, Pinus pinaster, Pinus nigra, Pinus sylvestris, Pinus uncinata, Quercus suber, Quercus ilex, Quercus petraea, Quercus robur, Quercus faginea and Quercus pyrenaica). We assessed the direct and indirect drivers of recruitment by applying Bayesian structural equation modelling techniques. Results: Severe limitations in recruitment were observed across extensive areas for all Pinus species studied, with recruitment failure affecting 54-71% of the surveyed plots. In striking contrast, Quercus species expanded into 41% of the plots surveyed compared to only 10% for Pinus and had a lower local recruitment failure (29% of Quercus localities compared to 63% for Pinus species). Bayesian structural equation models highlighted the key role of the presence of Q.ilex saplings and the increase in the basal area of Q.ilex in limiting recruitment in five Pinus species. The recruitment of P.sylvestris and P.nigra showed the most negative trends and was negatively associated with the impacts of fire. Main conclusions: This study identified Q.ilex, the most widespread species in this area, as a key driver of recruitment shifts on a large scale, negatively affecting most pine species with the advance of forest succession. These results highlight that the future expansion/contraction of Q.ilex stands with ongoing climate change will be a key process indirectly controlling the demographic responses of Pinus species in the Mediterranean Basin. © 2013 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.