Changing land use and the spread of winning native or exotic plants are expected to lead to biotic homogenization (BH), in which previously distinct plant communities become progressively more similar. In parallel, many ecosystems have recently seen increases in local species ( alpha -) diversity, yet gamma -diversity has continued to decline at larger scales. Using national ecological surveillance data for Great Britain, we quantify relationships between change in alpha -diversity and between-habitat homogenizations at two levels of organization: species composition and plant functional traits. Across Britain both increases and decreases in alpha -diversity were observed in small random sampling plots (10-200m super(2)) located within a national random sample of 1km square regions. As alpha -diversity declined (spatially in 1978 or temporally between 1978 and 1998), plant communities became functionally more similar, but species- compositional similarity declined. Thus, different communities converged on a narrower range of winning trait syndromes, but species identities remained historically contingent, differentiating a mosaic of residual species-poor habitat patches within each 1km square. The reverse trends in beta -diversity occurred where alpha - diversity increased. When impacted by the same type and intensity of environmental change, directions of change in alpha -diversity are likely to depend upon differences in starting productivity and disturbance. This is one reason why local diversity change and BH across habitats are not likely to be consistently coupled.
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