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Abstract. Variation of biodiversity over 72 600 km2 of tropical rain forest was mapped by multiple characteristics using a new combined nominal–numerical classification system. Three hundred and sixty-nine tree genera were grouped into classes by eight taxonomic, geographical, phylogenetic and ecological characteristics. Each grid cell was assigned to a nominal biodiversity type by its dominant classes and classified numerically by its share of total variation in study area biodiversity. Differentiation of 0.5° cells by nominal classification was inferior to numerical classification, but improved at higher resolution. The nominal and numerical classifications were shown to have potential for complementary roles in conservation planning.