Island systems have long played a central role in the development of ecology and evolutionary biology. However, while many empirical studies suggest species differ in vital biogeographic rates, such as dispersal abilities, quantitative methods have had difficulty incorporating such differences into analyses of whole-assemblages. In particular, differences in dispersal abilities among species can cause variation in the spatial clustering and localization of species distributions. Here, we develop a single, hierarchical Bayes, assemblage-wide model of 252 bird species distributions on the islands of Northern Melanesia and use it to investigate a) whether dispersal limitation structures bird assemblages across the archipelago, b) whether species differ in dispersal ability, and c) test the hypothesis that wing aspect ratio, a trait linked to flight efficiency, predicts differences inferred by the model. Consistent with island biogeographic theory, we found that individual species were more likely to occur on islands with greater area, and on islands near to other islands where the species also occurred. However, species showed wide variation in the importance and spatial scale of these clustering effects. The importance of clustering in distributions was greater for species with low wing aspect ratios, and the spatial scale of clustering was also smaller for low aspect ratio species. These findings suggest that the spatial configuration of islands interacts with species dispersal ability to affect contemporary distributions, and that these species differences are detectable in occurrence patterns. More generally, our study demonstrates a quantitative, hierarchical approach that can be used to model the influence of dispersal heterogeneity in diverse assemblages and test hypotheses for how traits drive dispersal differences, providing a framework for deconstructing ecological assemblages and their drivers.This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.