Scaling pairwise beta-diversity and alpha-diversity with area

Karel Mokany*, Mirkka M. Jones, Thomas D. Harwood

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Aim: The relationship between species richness (α-diversity) and area is well studied; however, the way in which compositional dissimilarity between pairs of sites (β-diversity) scales with area has only recently attracted research attention. The aim of this study was to improve the understanding of how both α- and β-diversity scale with area, to illuminate ecological processes structuring the distribution of biodiversity and enable prediction of α- and β-diversity for large regions from much smaller samples. Location: We examined both simulated spatial community data and measurements from tropical forest tree plots in Panama. Methods: We applied the simulated and measured community data to assess how both α- and β-diversity scale with area. Then we examined how accurately community α-diversity and pairwise β-diversity can be extrapolated from small sample areas of different size within each community, using the species-area power relationship. Results: For both the simulated and tree plot data, pairwise β-diversity scaled with area in a corresponding manner to the much more familiar species-area relationship. By altering the attributes of the simulated communities, we found that α- and β-diversity saturated at smaller areas where abundances were more even, species distributions were less aggregated and regional richness was lower. Estimates of α- and β-diversity for a pair of communities generally increased in accuracy with the size of the local sample areas from which extrapolations were made. Main conclusions: These analyses suggest that the most robust estimates of α- and β-diversity for a larger area will be obtained by local samples that are greater than 10% the size of that larger area. Our results emphasize the fundamental link in how both α- and β-diversity scale with area, and demonstrate how simple knowledge of these scaling relationships can be used to predict the diversity of larger areas from smaller samples.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2299-2309
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Biogeography
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Alpha diversity
  • Beta diversity
  • Community
  • Compositional dissimilarity
  • Panama
  • Prediction
  • Rain forest
  • Richness
  • Simulation

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