Abstract. Indices of β-diversity are of two major types, (1) those that measure among-plot variability in species composition independently of the position of individual plots on spatial or environmental gradients, and (2) those that measure the extent of change in species composition along predefined gradients, i.e. species turnover. Failure to recognize this distinction can lead to the inappropriate use of some β-diversity indices to measure species turnover.
Several commonly-used indices of β-diversity are based on Whittaker's βW (βW = γ/α, where γ is the number of species in an entire study area and α is the number of species per plot within the study area). It is demonstrated that these indices do not take into account the distribution of species on spatial or environmental gradients, and should therefore not be used to measure species turnover. The terms ‘β-diversity’ and ‘species turnover’ should not be used interchangeably. Species turnover can be measured using matrices of compositional similarity and physical or environmental distances among pairs of study plots. The use of indices of β-diversity and similarity-distance curves is demonstrated using simulated data sets.