We outline the potentially important role of dispersal in linking diversity patterns at different spatial and temporal scales, and the resulting potential to link hypotheses explaining macroscale patterns of diversity. We do this by proposing a possible mechanism linking climate to diversity patterns: we argue that climate, via effects of continuity of habitat availability in space and time, mediates a dispersal–ecological specialization trade-off at the metacommunity level that leads to latitudinal trends in dispersal ability, ecological specialization, range sizes, speciation and species richness, ultimately driving the latitudinal diversity gradient. This trade-off constitutes a possible mechanism for the strong macroscale correlation between climate and species richness that is consistent with recent ideas about niche conservatism and gradient lengths, as well as other leading hypotheses. We present an overview of predictions derived from our ideas. Of these, some have already been tested and supported and others are still open to debate or need testing. Together they provide a unique set of predictions that allows falsification.