Much recent research explaining plant community diversity has focused on comparing the relative impacts of regional and local processes. We employed a novel analysis to quantify the effects of multiple regional and local processes on species richness, and to make quantitative comparisons of those effects across two sites that differ in plot-level species richness, productivity and environmental conditions. While abiotic stress and competition limited richness within the communities at both sites, only differences in the overall pool of species at the site, likely resulting from long-distance dispersal and climate fluctuations, explained the differences in plot-level richness between sites. Patterns in local richness may be driven by a temporal storage effect, with greater richness in the site with greater climatic variability. By identifying both the factors that impact diversity within communities and those that vary systematically across communities, our integrated approach provides a better understanding of regional diversity patterns.