Abstract Theoretical work suggests a paradoxical effect of diversity on the temporal stability of ecological systems: increasing diversity should result in decreased stability of populations while community stability is enhanced. While empirical work indicates that community stability tends to increase with diversity, investigations of the effect of diversity on populations have resulted in few clear patterns. Here, we examine relationships between community diversity and population stability in unmanipulated annual plant communities. We show that, counter to theory, the temporal stability of annual plant populations increases with diversity. In addition, and again counter to theoretical assumptions, mean population size tends to increase with diversity, a pattern most likely due to variation in local productivity. The fact that community diversity, population size and the temporal stability of populations covaried positively suggests that abiotic factors such as productivity may govern population stability to such an extent as to override potential effects of diversity.