Evidence suggests that biodiversity supports ecosystem functioning. Yet, the mechanisms driving this relationship remain unclear. Complementarity is one common explanation for these positive biodiversity–ecosystem functioning relationships. Yet, complementarity is often indirectly quantified as overperformance in mixture relative to monoculture (e.g., ‘complementarity effect’). This overperformance is then attributed to the intuitive idea of complementarity or, more specifically, to species resource partitioning. Locally, however, several unassociated causes may drive this overperformance. Here, we differentiate complementarity into three types of species differences that may cause enhanced ecosystem functioning in more diverse ecosystems: (i) resource partitioning, (ii) abiotic facilitation, and (iii) biotic feedbacks. We argue that disentangling these three causes is crucial for predicting the response of ecosystems to future biodiversity loss.