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Abstract Aim This study investigates the species–area relationship (SAR) for oribatid mite communities of isolated suspended soil habitats, and compares the shape and slope of the SAR with a nested data set collected over three spatial scales (core, patch and tree level). We investigate whether scale dependence is exhibited in the nested sampling design, use multivariate regression models to elucidate factors affecting richness and abundance patterns, and ask whether the community composition of oribatid mites changes in suspended soil patches of different sizes. Location Walbran Valley, Vancouver Island, Canada. Methods A total of 216 core samples were collected from 72 small, medium and large isolated suspended soil habitats in six western redcedar trees in June 2005. The relationship between oribatid species richness and habitat volume was modelled for suspended soil habitat isolates (type 3) and a nested sampling design (type 1) over multiple spatial scales. Nonlinear estimation parameterized linear, power and Weibull function regression models for both SAR designs, and these were assessed for best fit using R2 and Akaike's information criteria (ΔAIC) values. Factors affecting oribatid mite species richness and standardized abundance (number per g dry weight) were analysed byanovaand linear regression models. Results Sixty-seven species of oribatid mites were identified from 9064 adult specimens. Surface area and moisture content of suspended soils contributed to the variation in species richness, while overall oribatid mite abundance was explained by moisture and depth. A power-law function best described the isolate SAR (S = 3.97 × A0.12, R2 = 0.247, F1,70 = 22.450, P < 0.001), although linear and Weibull functions were also valid models. Oribatid mite species richness in nested samples closely fitted a power-law model (S = 1.96 × A0.39, R2 = 0.854, F1,18 = 2693.6, P < 0.001). The nested SAR constructed over spatial scales of core, patch and tree levels proved to be scale-independent. Main conclusions Unique microhabitats provided by well developed suspended soil accumulations are a habitat template responsible for the diversity of canopy oribatid mites. Species–area relationships of isolate vs. nested species richness data differed in the rate of accumulation of species with increased area. We suggest that colonization history, stability of suspended soil environments, and structural habitat complexity at local and regional scales are major determinants of arboreal oribatid mite species richness.