Biodiv Sci ›› 2010, Vol. 18 ›› Issue (4): 323-335.DOI: 10.3724/SP.J.1003.2010.323

• Special Issue •     Next Articles

A review of beta diversity studies

Shengbin Chen; Zhiyun Ouyang*; Weihua Xu; Yi Xiao   

  1. State Key Laboratory of Urban and Regional Ecology, Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100085
  • Received:2010-03-02 Online:2010-07-20 Published:2010-07-20
  • Contact: Zhiyun Ouyang


Beta diversity is an important component of biological diversity, measuring compositional change in species assemblages across temporal and spatial scales. Beta diversity concerns not only a number of ecological and evolutionary issues, but can also guide the selection of protected areas and help to optimize conservation networks. It has thus become a hot topic in biodiversity research in recent years. Researchers have used various measures and analytical methods to investigate patterns of beta diversity and its underlying mechanisms for various taxa and in different regions. Here, we reviewed literature from the past decade pertaining to the following aspects of beta diversity: metrics, temporal and spatial patterns, determinants and applications in biodiversity conservation. Whittaker introduced the term beta diversity in 1960, but defined it vaguely. As the concept of beta diversity evolved, a high variety of measures were developed to quantify the concept. The comparison of results from different studies may be hindered by the variety of measures used to quantify beta diversity. Presently, the most popular methods for measuring beta diversity are similarity/ dissimilarity coefficients such as Jaccard index and Sørensen index. In the last few years, several methods to quantify beta diversity have emerged, some of which are worth noting. Beta diversity depends on temporal scale, spatial scale and taxonomic scale, and decreases with increasing analytical grain size. There is no consensus among scientists that beta diversity decreases with latitude, i.e. that it is higher in tropics and lower near the poles. Beta diversity is high within mountain ranges and at the interface of biogeographic realms; thus, larger/more reserves are needed in these regions to cover the entire gradient of species turnover. Studies on beta diversity across temporal scales have shown that climatic change has resulted in shifts in species composition through time, and that the migration of species between different continents/regions has led to biotic homogenization. Based on a thorough review of beta diversity literature, we think the following questions might be the focus of future research: (1) the influence of evolutionary history and biological characteristics of different taxonomic groups on their beta diversity; (2) the influence of temporal/spatial scales on beta diversity and its determinants; and (3) the effect of anthropogenic activities on beta diversity.