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Keywords:

  • Biodiversity;
  • community ecology;
  • environmental gradients;
  • heterogeneity;
  • multivariate analysis;
  • species composition;
  • turnover;
  • variance partitioning;
  • variation

Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 19–28

Abstract

A recent increase in studies of β diversity has yielded a confusing array of concepts, measures and methods. Here, we provide a roadmap of the most widely used and ecologically relevant approaches for analysis through a series of mission statements. We distinguish two types of β diversity: directional turnover along a gradient vs. non-directional variation. Different measures emphasize different properties of ecological data. Such properties include the degree of emphasis on presence/absence vs. relative abundance information and the inclusion vs. exclusion of joint absences. Judicious use of multiple measures in concert can uncover the underlying nature of patterns in β diversity for a given dataset. A case study of Indonesian coral assemblages shows the utility of a multi-faceted approach. We advocate careful consideration of relevant questions, matched by appropriate analyses. The rigorous application of null models will also help to reveal potential processes driving observed patterns in β diversity.