For two centuries, islands have served as rich sources of inspiration and data for biogeographers, thus gaining renown as ideal natural laboratories. Their research potential continues to expand today thanks to the combined application of recent advances in several scientific fields. First, increasingly detailed geological and palaeoecological data are extending our understanding of the history of development of island biotas. At the same time, rapid methodological advances in molecular evolutionary biology and systematics are revealing the pathways by which species colonized islands, evolved, and formed communities. Third, basic data on species distributions are being collected from increasing numbers of islands and taxa, distributed widely through electronic resources, and analyzed with powerful software to reveal macroecological patterns. The pace and quality of recent advances signal a promising future in which islands will continue to play key roles in revealing how biodiversity is produced and maintained.