Global patterns in community species richness may represent limitations operating at the local scale, such as competitive exclusion and habitat suitability, or, in the case of unsaturated communities, limitations to the species pool of biogeographic regions. Separating the effects of local and regional processes on community richness requires combining small-scale experiments with broad surveys. I examine limitations to the number of aquatic insect species per treehole at the scale of a single woodland, and between eight biogeographic regions. Variation in species richness at the woodland scale can largely be explained by small-scale differences between treeholes in drought disturbance, as shown for British treehole insects for 2 years. At the global scale, drought disturbance is a relatively poor predictor of patterns in the local richness of treehole mosquitoes. Instead, regional differences in the species pool explain most of the variation in local mosquito richness. Treeholes in at least the most species-poor regions appear to be unsaturated with mosquito species. In this system, therefore, local processes do not necessarily scale to global patterns.