Our understanding of the biological assemblages at hydrothermal vents is growing rapidly, in part facilitated by the coupling of experimental and observational methods with theoretical modeling efforts. We review theoretical approaches in four main areas and link them to empirical studies of the biology of hydrothermal vent systems. First, we describe models of dispersal of vent organisms within and among vent sites. These models fall broadly into two categories: those based on larval biology and currents that predict dispersal capabilities from a source, and those using genetic data to address historical genetic links between populations. Then we discuss models for individual and population growth at a location and give examples from work in a biologically similar deep-sea environment: cold seeps. Third, we address how these two aspects can be integrated using models that couple dispersal and demography. Last, we summarize existing modeling approaches for community succession in other types of habitats, and outline the conceptual models and the sorts of data that currently exist for hydrothermal vent communities. Throughout, we also examine the use of models in improving experimental design.