- 1Little consensus has been reached as to general features of spatial variation in beta diversity, a fundamental component of species diversity. This could reflect a genuine lack of simple gradients in beta diversity, or a lack of agreement as to just what constitutes beta diversity. Unfortunately, a large number of approaches have been applied to the investigation of variation in beta diversity, which potentially makes comparisons of the findings difficult.
- 2We review 24 measures of beta diversity for presence/absence data (the most frequent form of data to which such measures are applied) that have been employed in the literature, express many of them for the first time in common terms, and compare some of their basic properties.
- 3Four groups of measures are distinguished, with a fundamental distinction arising between ‘broad sense’ measures incorporating differences in composition attributable to species richness gradients, and ‘narrow sense’ measures that focus on compositional differences independent of such gradients. On a number of occasions on which the former have been employed in the literature the latter may have been more appropriate, and there are many situations in which consideration of both kinds of measures would be valuable.
- 4We particularly recommend (i) considering beta diversity measures in terms of matching/mismatching components (usually denoted a, b and c) and thereby identifying the contribution of different sources of variation in species composition, and (ii) the use of ternary plots to express the relationship between the values of these measures and of the components, and as a way of understanding patterns in beta diversity.