Metapopulation ecology has historically been rich in theory, yet analytical approaches for inferring demographic relationships among local populations have been few. We show how reverse-time multi-state capture-recapture models can be used to estimate the importance of local recruitment and interpopulation dispersal to metapopulation growth. We use 'contribution metrics' to infer demographic connectedness among eight local populations of banner-tailed kangaroo rats, to assess their demographic closure, and to investigate sources of variation in these contributions. Using a 7 year dataset, we show that: (i) local populations are relatively independent demographically, and contributions to local population growth via dispersal within the system decline with distance; (ii) growth contributions via local survival and recruitment are greater for adults than juveniles, while contributions involving dispersal are greater for juveniles; (iii) central populations rely more on local recruitment and survival than peripheral populations; (iv) contributions involving dispersal are not clearly related to overall metapopulation density; and (v) estimated contributions from outside the system are unexpectedly large. Our analytical framework can classify metapopulations on a continuum between demographic independence and panmixia, detect hidden population growth contributions, and make inference about other population linkage forms, including rescue effects and source-sink structures. Finally, we discuss differences between demographic and genetic population linkage patterns for our system. ?? 2011 The Royal Society.