Trade-offs in species performances of different ecological functions is one of the most common explanations for coexistence in communities. Despite the potential for species coexistence occurring at local or regional spatial scales, trade-offs are typically approached at a single scale. In recent years, ecologists have increasingly provided evidence for the importance of community processes at both local and regional spatial scales. This review summarizes the theoretical predictions for the traits associated with trade-offs under different conditions and at different spatial scales. We provide a spatial framework for understanding trade-offs, coexistence and the supportive empirical evidence. Predictions are presented that link the patterns of diversity observed to the patterns of trade-offs that lead to coexistence at different spatial scales. Recent evidence for the evolution of trade-offs under different conditions is provided which explores both laboratory microcosm studies and phylogenetic tests. Examining trade-offs within a spatial framework can provide a strong approach to understanding community structure and dynamics, while explaining patterns of species diversity.