To understand the population dynamics of a species, it is necessary to document the way in which its demographic behaviour varies through space and time. Anthropogenic disturbance, such as shifting cultivation, is an important factor causing demographic variation in many tropical non-timber forest products. The leaves of the palm Sabal yapa are an important non-timber forest product used for thatching by Mayan peoples. The demography of Sabal yapa was studied in three habitats (mature forest, successional forest and crop fields), representing successional phases along the slash-and-burn agricultural cycle in the Yucatan Peninsula. Matrix population models, along with elasticity analyses and life-table-response experiments were employed. Population growth rate differed between patches (MF: λ = 1.043; SF: λ = 1.027; CF: λ = 0.959). Only the λ value of the mature forest was significantly higher than unity. Fecundity and seedling survival were lowest in the crop fields and highest in the mature forest. The elasticity analyses and life-table-response experiments showed that entries with a high positive contribution to λ also showed high elasticity values, while those with a negative contribution to λ showed low elasticity. Thus, both analyses are crucial to understand the demography of a species and to aid in conservation and management practices.