Larger seeds have been shown to convey benefits for seedling survival but the mechanisms of this process are not well understood. In this study, seed size and seedling survival were compared for 2 sympatric cactus species, Carnegiea gigantea (Engelm.) Britt. & Rose and Ferocactus wislizeni (Engelm.) Britt. & Rose, in laboratory and field experiments in the northern Sonoran Desert. Both species have small seeds, but Ferocactus seeds are nearly twice as long and 3 times as heavy as those of Carnegiea. The difference in size is perpetuated after germination: new Ferocactus seedlings have 4 times the estimated volume of new Carnegiea seedlings. In an outdoor experiment, annual survivorship of both species was low but was 6 times higher for Ferocactus (6 seedlings, 8.1%) than Carnegiea (1 seedling, 1.4%). The pattern of seedling mortality in relation to temperature and rain suggests that, after the initial flush of seed and seedling predation, drought and heat took a greater toll on Carnegiea than Ferocactus seedlings, probably because the larger seedling volume of Ferocactus conferred greater drought tolerance. In addition, F. wislizeni could become established without benefit of nurse plants whereas C. gigantea could not; this might reflect differential tolerance to high soil temperatures.