, Volume 167, Issue 4, pp 903–911 | Cite as

Commentary: do we have a consistent terminology for species diversity? Yes, if we choose to use it

  • Hanna Tuomisto
Views and Comments


Meaningful quantification of species diversity requires that both ‘species’ and ‘diversity’ are unambiguously defined. Rigorous rules of nomenclature exist to ensure that each species has a single unique name, but the naming of concepts is much more variable. As a consequence, ‘diversity’ has been defined in so many different ways that its ability to transfer accurate information has been compromised. This problem can be solved by defining ‘diversity’ as the effective number of species (or other types of interest), and using the term ‘true diversity’ to specify that this narrow concept is being used (analogously to using the term ‘true bugs’ when adhering to a narrow circumscription of ‘bugs’). Other measures related to diversity (such as entropies and probabilities) continue to be useful, but they represent different phenomena and should therefore be referred to by different names. Total species diversity in a dataset can be partitioned into two components in several different ways. The components of a specific multiplicative partitioning can be called true alpha diversity and true beta diversity. When the partitioning is done in some other way, the resulting components are different and should be called by other names. For example, the beta component of additive partitioning does not equal true beta diversity, but can logically be called species turnover. All the phenomena that have been called ‘beta diversity’ in the ecological literature have also been called by alternative unique names. Consequently, a consistent terminology is already available; only a general agreement to use it is lacking.


Alpha diversity Beta diversity Gamma diversity Diversity partitioning Species turnover 



I thank Root Gorelick, Gerald Jurasinski, Claudia Moreno, Samuel M. Scheiner, Marti J. Anderson and Kalle Ruokolainen for fruitful discussions that helped focus the present paper.


  1. Anderson MJ, Crist TO, Chase JM, Vellend M, Inouye BD, Freestone AL et al (2011) Navigating the multiple meanings of β diversity: a roadmap for the practicing ecologist. Ecol Lett 14:19–28PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Baselga A (2010) Multiplicative partition of true diversity yields independent alpha and beta components; additive partition does not. Ecology 91:1974–1981PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Gorelick R (2011) Commentary: do we have a consistent terminology for species diversity? The fallacy of true diversity. Oecologia. doi: 10.1007/s00442-011-2124-8
  4. Hill MO (1973) Diversity and evenness: a unifying notation and its consequences. Ecology 54:427–432CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Hoffmann S, Hoffmann A (2008) Is there a “true” diversity? Ecol Econ 65:213–215CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Hurlbert SH (1971) The nonconcept of species diversity: a critique and alternative parameters. Ecology 52:577–586CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Jost L (2006) Entropy and diversity. Oikos 113:363–375CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Jost L (2007) Partitioning diversity into independent alpha and beta components. Ecology 88:2427–2439PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Jost L (2009) Mismeasuring biological diversity: response to Hoffmann and Hoffmann (2008). Ecol Econ 68:925–928CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Jost L (2010) Independence of alpha and beta diversities. Ecology 91:1969–1974PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Jurasinski G, Koch M (2011) Commentary: do we have a consistent terminology for species diversity? We are on the way. Oecologia. doi: 10.1007/s00442-011-2126-6
  12. Jurasinski G, Retzer V, Beierkuhnlein C (2009) Inventory, differentiation, and proportional diversity: a consistent terminology for quantifying species diversity. Oecologia 159:15–26PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Lande R (1996) Statistics and partitioning of species diversity, and similarity among multiple communities. Oikos 76:5–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Legendre P, Borcard D, Peres-Neto PR (2005) Analyzing beta diversity: partitioning the spatial variation of community composition data. Ecol Monogr 75:435–450CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Moreno CE, Rodríguez P (2010) A consistent terminology for quantifying species diversity? Oecologia 163:282–297CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Moreno CE, Rodríguez P (2011) Commentary: do we have a consistent terminology for species diversity? Back to basics and toward a unifying framework. Oecologia. doi: 10.1007/s00442-011-2125-7
  17. Ricotta C (2010) On beta diversity decomposition: trouble shared is not trouble halved. Ecology 91:1981–1983PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Routledge RD (1979) Diversity indices: which ones are admissible? J Theor Biol 76:503–515PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Tuomisto H (2010a) A diversity of beta diversities: straightening up a concept gone awry. Part 1. Defining beta diversity as a function of alpha and gamma diversity. Ecography 33:2–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Tuomisto H (2010b) A diversity of beta diversities: straightening up a concept gone awry. Part 2. Quantifying beta diversity and related phenomena. Ecography 33:23–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Tuomisto H (2010c) A consistent terminology for quantifying species diversity? Yes, it does exist. Oecologia 164:853–860PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Tuomisto H, Ruokolainen K (2006) Analyzing or explaining beta diversity? Understanding the targets of different methods of analysis. Ecology 87:2697–2708PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Tuomisto H, Ruokolainen K (2008) Analyzing or explaining beta diversity? Reply. Ecology 89:3244–3256CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Veech JA, Crist TO (2010) Toward a unified view of diversity partitioning. Ecology 91:1988–1992PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Vellend M (2001) Do commonly used indices of β-diversity measure species turnover? J Veg Sci 12:545–552CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Whittaker RH (1960) Vegetation of the Siskiyou Mountains, Oregon and California. Ecol Monogr 30:279–338CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Whittaker RH (1972) Evolution and measurement of species diversity. Taxon 21:213–251CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Wilson MV, Shmida A (1984) Measuring beta diversity with presence–absence data. J Ecol 72:1055–1064CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of TurkuTurkuFinland

Personalised recommendations