Island biogeographic studies traditionally treat single islands as units of analysis. This ignores the fact that most islands
are spatially nested within archipelagos. Here, we took a fundamentally different approach and focused on entire archipelagos
using species richness of vascular plants on 23 archipelagos worldwide and their 174 constituent islands. We assessed differential
effects of biogeographic factors (area, isolation, age, elevation), current and past climate (temperature, precipitation,
seasonality, climate change velocity) and intra-archipelagic spatial structure (archipelago area, number of islands, area
range, connectivity, environmental volume, inter-island distance) on plant diversity. Species diversity of each archipelago
(γ) was additively partitioned into α, β, nestedness and replacement β-components to investigate the relative importance of
environmental and spatial drivers. Multiple regressions revealed strong effects of biogeography and climate on α and γ, whereas
spatial factors, particularly number of islands, inter-island distance and area range, were key to explain β. Structural equation
models additionally suggested that γ is predominantly determined by indirect abiotic effects via its components, particularly
β. This highlights that β and the spatial arrangement of islands are essential to understand insular ecology and evolution.
Our methodological framework can be applied more widely to other taxa and archipelago-like systems, allowing new insights
into biodiversity origin and maintenance.