Selected lumbosacral dorsal root ganglia (d.r.g.s) were eliminated from chick embryos by removing the parent neural crest, and the dermatomes and axonal projection patterns established in the hind limb by the remaining intact d.r.g.s were studied physiologically and/or anatomically. Dermatomes of intact d.r.g.s expanded into denervated skin regions, partially but never completely replacing the lost innervation; some skin regions consistently remained without apparent innervation. Dermatome expansion was detected in young embryos, soon after skin innervation was established, suggesting that skin sensory axons in operated embryos ignored their usual dermatome borders. The axonal pathways (nerve trunks) normally supplied by axons from the deleted d.r.g.s were missing, and axons from intact d.r.g.s were only rarely found in aberrant pathways. In contrast, the relative distribution of axons from intact d.r.g.s within their usual complement of pathways was altered, with axonal projections shifting toward, but not into the deleted pathways. Shifts in axonal projection patterns were observed in embryos prior to the onset of sensory cell death. Thus, d.r.g. deletions appeared to affect the initial growth of axons into the limb. Together these results suggest that during normal development competitive interactions among axons from neighbouring d.r.g.s play an important role in establishing the borders between dermatomes and in determining the distribution of axons within projection pathways in the limb.