Journal or Book Title
Whittaker (1960, 1972) first proposed the idea that species diversity has spatial components, with alpha diversity estimating diversity within individual stands (or communities) and beta diversity estimating the number of community types in an area (or in Whittaker’s terminology, ‘‘differentiation of communities along gradients’’). These two values combined make up gamma diversity. Beta diversity is important because it provides the conceptual link between local and regional diversity, more directly measures how soil types, disturbance, and dispersal affect diversity, and is helpful in understanding why species loss is sometimes smaller than predicted by theory (Wilsey et al. 2005). Many interesting and longstanding questions are applied across scales, such as how much diversity is found within islands vs. across islands? Is the number of habitat types (i.e., beta) within islands key to explaining diversity at larger scales or is it the greater population sizes found on large islands? Furthermore, a consideration of both alpha and beta is necessary for understanding how diversity arises and is maintained in diverse systems. For example, in the northern Great Plains, we have found that remnant prairies can contain over 120 plant species within a small area (Wilsey et al. 2005); this occurs because of high diversity at the neighborhood scale where 20–25 species are found per square meter (Martin et al. 2005), and from species accumulation across neighborhoods (i.e., beta).
Ecological Society of America
Wilsey, Brian J., "An Empirical Comparison of Beta Diversity Indices in Establishing Prairies" (2010). Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology Publications. 98.