Underlying the diversity of life and the complexity of ecology is order that reflects the operation of fundamental physical and biological processes. Power laws describe empirical scaling relationships that are emergent quantitative features of biodiversity. These features are patterns of structure or dynamics that are self–similar or fractal–like over many orders of magnitude. Power laws allow extrapolation and prediction over a wide range of scales. Some appear to be universal, occurring in virtually all taxa of organisms and types of environments. They offer clues to underlying mechanisms that powerfully constrain biodiversity. We describe recent progress and future prospects for understanding the mechanisms that generate these power laws, and for explaining the diversity of species and complexity of ecosystems in terms of fundamental principles of physical and biological science.