The development of a more synthetic approach to understanding spatial patterns in biogeography, particularly of the way in which these patterns interact, constitutes a major challenge for the field. Here we propose some key elements of such a synthesis for what can broadly be termed ‘ecogeographical rules’, that is spatial patterns in biological traits. These include understanding: (1) the different kinds of patterns (intraspecific, interspecific and assemblage), and the distinctions between them; (2) the unifying role that geographical ranges play in linking the patterns together; (3) that this unification can be obscured by the methodological assumptions made in documenting some patterns (e.g. assuming that intraspecific variation does not significantly influence interspecific and assemblage patterns in traits); (4) the implications of other methodological issues for the nature of observed patterns (e.g. how ranges are located on positional or environmental axes for interspecific patterns); (5) the need for further development of models linking different types of traits; (6) the nature of the generality of documented patterns at all levels, and particularly the difference between the frequency with which patterns are documented in the literature and the variety of extant species; and (7) the constraints that the form of intraspecific patterns place on interspecific and assemblage patterns, and that interspecific patterns place on assemblage patterns.