Numerous biodiversity–ecosystem functioning (BEF) experiments have shown that plant community productivity typically increases with species diversity. In these studies, diversity is generally quantified using metrics of taxonomic, phylogenetic, or functional differences among community members. Research has also shown that the relationships between species diversity and functioning depends on the spatial scale considered, primarily because larger areas may contain different ecosystem types and span gradients in environmental conditions, which result in a turnover of the species set present locally. A fact that has received little attention, however, is that ecological systems are hierarchically structured, from genes to individuals to communities to entire landscapes, and that additional biological variation occurs at levels of organization above and below those typically considered in BEF research. Here, we present cases of diversity effects at different hierarchical levels of organization and compare these to the species-diversity effects traditionally studied. We argue that when this evidence is combined across levels, a general framework emerges that allows the transfer of insights and concepts between traditionally disparate disciplines. Such a framework presents an important step towards a better understanding of the functional importance of diversity in complex, real-world systems.