A multiscale approach has lead to significant advances in the understanding of species population dynamics. The scale-dependent nature of population processes has been particularly clearly illustrated for insect herbivores. However, one of the most well-studied insect herbivores, the galling sawfly Euura lasiolepis, has to date been examined almost exclusively at fine spatial scales. The preference-performance, plant vigour and larval survival hypotheses are well supported by this species. Here, we test these hypotheses at a spatial scale larger than that previously considered, i.e. across a landscape in northern Arizona represented by an altitudinal gradient encompassing a series of drainages. We also develop a qualitative model for understanding the population dynamics of E. lasiolepis based on patterns of survival and mortality found in this study and previous ones. Gall density was highly variable across the altitudinal gradient, not explained by host plant variables, and thus a poor surrogate for population abundance. These findings for the first time fail to support the plant vigour and preference hierarchy hypotheses for E. lasiolepis. Dispersal limitation most likely explains the lack of support for these hypotheses at this scale. By contrast, sawfly survival, gall abortion, parasitism and larval mortality were well explained by host plant quality variables and altitude. The larval survival hypothesis was well supported and is thus comparatively scale-invariant. A qualitative model developed here highlighted the importance of both willow water status and disturbance in determining host plant quality, as well as an apparent trade off between shoot length and plant moisture status in determining vital rates across the altitudinal gradient. This study thus demonstrated for the first time the scale-dependent nature of mechanisms underlying the population dynamics E. lasiolepis, and identified the interaction between parasitism and altitude as a novel mechanism underlying spatial patterns in the survival and mortality patterns of this species.