1. The abundance and distribution of species tend to be linked, such that species declining in abundance often tend also to show declines in the number of sites they occupy, while species increasing in abundance tend also to be increasing in occupancy. Therefore, intraspecific abundance–occupancy relationships are commonly positive.
2. The intraspecific pattern is mirrored by more general positive interspecific abundance–occupancy relationships: widespread species tend to be abundant, and narrowly distributed species rare.
3. Here, we review recent research on these patterns based on the flora and fauna of the British Isles. We assess their generality, describe what is currently known about their structure, and summarize the results of tests of the several hypotheses proposed to explain their existence.
4. The positive form generally exhibited by abundance–occupancy relationships, intraspecific or interspecific, has consequences for several areas of applied ecology, including conservation, harvesting, biological invasions and biodiversity inventorying. These implications are discussed briefly.