Abstract I challenge (1) the assumption that habitat patches are natural units of measurement for species richness, and (2) the assumption of distinct effects of habitat patch size and isolation on species richness. I propose a simpler view
of the relationship between habitat distribution and species richness, the ‘habitat amount hypothesis’, and I suggest ways of testing it. The habitat amount hypothesis posits that, for habitat patches in a matrix of non‐habitat, the patch size effect and the patch isolation
effect are driven mainly by a single underlying process, the sample area effect. The hypothesis predicts that species richness in equal‐sized sample sites should increase with the total amount of habitat in the ‘local landscape’ of the sample site, where the local landscape
is the area within an appropriate distance of the sample site. It also predicts that species richness in a sample site is independent of the area of the particular patch in which the sample site is located (its ‘local patch’), except insofar as the area of that patch contributes
to the amount of habitat in the local landscape of the sample site. The habitat amount hypothesis replaces two predictor variables, patch size and isolation, with a single predictor variable, habitat amount, when species richness is analysed for equal‐sized sample sites rather than
for unequal‐sized habitat patches. Studies to test the hypothesis should ensure that ‘habitat’ is correctly defined, and the spatial extent of the local landscape is appropriate, for the species group under consideration. If supported, the habitat amount hypothesis would
mean that to predict the relationship between habitat distribution and species richness: (1) distinguishing between patch‐scale and landscape‐scale habitat effects is unnecessary; (2) distinguishing between patch size effects and patch isolation effects is unnecessary; (3) considering
habitat configuration independent of habitat amount is unnecessary; and (4) delineating discrete habitat patches is unnecessary.