Biodiversity metrics often integrate data on the presence and abundance of multiple species. Yet our understanding of covariation between changes to the numbers of individuals, the evenness of species relative abundances, and the total number of species remains limited. Using individual-based rarefaction curves, we show how expected positive relationships among changes in abundance, evenness and richness arise, and how they can break down. We then examined interdependencies between changes in abundance, evenness and richness in more than 1100 assemblages sampled either through time or across space. As predicted, richness changes were greatest when abundance and evenness changed in the same direction, and countervailing changes in abundance and evenness acted to constrain the magnitude of changes in species richness. Site-to-site differences in abundance, evenness, and richness were often decoupled, and pairwise relationships between these components across assemblages were weak. In contrast, changes in species richness and relative abundance were strongly correlated for assemblages varying through time. Temporal changes in local biodiversity showed greater inertia and stronger relationships between the component changes when compared to site-to-site variation. Overall, local variation in assemblage diversity was rarely due to repeated passive samples from an approximately static species abundance distribution. Instead, changing species relative abundances often dominated local variation in diversity. Moreover, how changing relative abundances combined with changes to total abundance frequently determined the magnitude of richness changes. Embracing the interdependencies between changing abundance, evenness and richness can provide new information to better understand biodiversity change in the Anthropocene.