Riparian areas are noted for their high biodiversity, but this has rarely been tested across a wide range of taxonomic groups. We set out to describe species richness, species abundance, and community similarity patterns for 11 taxonomic groups (forbs & grasses, shrubs, trees, solpugids, spiders, scarab beetles, butterflies, lizards, birds, rodents, and mammalian carnivores) individually and for all groups combined along a riparian-upland gradient in semiarid southeastern Arizona, USA. Additionally, we assessed whether biological characteristics could explain variation in diversity along the gradient using five traits (trophic level, body size, life span, thermoregulatory mechanism, and taxonomic affiliation). At the level of individual groups diversity patterns varied along the gradient, with some having greater richness and/or abundance in riparian zones whereas others were more diverse and/or abundant in upland zones. Across all taxa combined, riparian zones contained significantly more species than the uplands. Community similarity between riparian and upland zones was low, and beta diversity was significantly greater than expected for most taxonomic groups, though biological traits explained little variance in diversity along the gradient. These results indicate heterogeneity amongst taxa in how they respond to the factors that structure ecological communities in riparian landscapes. Nevertheless, across taxonomic groups the overall pattern is one of greater species richness and abundance in riparian zones, coupled with a distinct suite of species.