Community ecologists have struggled to create unified theories across diverse ecosystems, but it has been difficult to acertain whether marine and terrestrial communities differ in the mechanisms responsible for structure and dynamics. One apparent difference between marine and terrestrial ecology is that the influence of regional processes on local populations and communities is better established in the marine literature. We examine three potential explanations: 1) influential early studies emphasized local interactions in terrestrial communities and regional dispersal in marine communities. 2) regional-scale processes are actually more important in marine than in terrestrial communities. 3) recruitment from a regional species pool is easier to study in marine than terrestrial communities. We conclude that these are interrelated, but that the second and especially the third explanations are more important than the first. We also conclude that in both marine and terrestrial systems, there are ways to improve our understanding of regional influences on local community diversity. In particular, we advocate examining local vs regional diversity relationships at localities within environmentally similar regions that differ in their diversity either because of their sizes or their varying degrees of isolation from a species source.