Protecting biomass carbon stocks to mitigate climate change has direct implications for biodiversity conservation. Yet, evidence that a positive association exists between carbon density and species richness is contrasting. Here, we test how this association varies (1) across spatial extents and (2) as a function of how strongly carbon and species richness depend on environmental variables. We found the correlation weakens when moving from larger extents, e.g. realms, to narrower extents, e.g. ecoregions. For ecoregions, a positive correlation emerges when both species richness and carbon density vary as functions of the same environmental variables (climate, soil, elevation). In 20% of tropical ecoregions, there are opportunities to pursue carbon conservation with direct biodiversity co‐benefits, while other ecoregions require careful planning for both species and carbon to avoid potentially perverse outcomes. The broad assumption of a linear relationship between carbon and biodiversity can lead to undesired outcomes.
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