The concept of overyielding originated in plant sciences in the 1950s and 1960s and was widely used in the following decades to assess whether mixtures of plants performed better than expected when compared with monocultures. Overyielding has re-emerged in the last few years as an important method in the analysis of biodiversity experiments (Hector, 1998; Loreau, 1998; Loreau et al., 2001, 2002; Hooper et al., 2005) and other new research areas (Bernasconi et al., 2003). Biodiversity experiments manipulate community diversity (while holding other factors constant) to investigate impacts on ecosystem functioning. Previously, use of the overyielding concept has been limited mainly to the analysis of community ecology experiments on species interactions and in agricultural research, particularly intercropping. However, there has been relatively little work that assesses the overyielding concept in the context of community ecology theory. Loreau (2004) used the classical Lotka–Volterra competition model to investigate overyielding and functional redundancy of species in the context of theory on the stable coexistence of species (Fig. 1). In this issue, Beckage & Gross (pp. 140–148) also use Lotka–Volterra competition models to assess the frequency and degree of overyielding of theoretical communities.