In the face of the ongoing biodiversity crisis and limited conservation funding, surrogate approaches have become a valuable tool to represent biodiversity. Management surrogates are those that indirectly benefit an ecological system or species by representing the management requirements of co-occurring biodiversity. Recent findings highlight the cost-effective potential of surrogate species in managing threatened species, however, evaluating higher levels of biodiversity as management surrogates remains unexplored. Here, we sought to maximize conservation outcomes for threatened species and threatened ecological communities (TECs) by prioritizing management based on overlapping distributions, threats, and costs. We describe a prioritization framework for identifying TECs that could serve as cost-effective surrogates, and compare it with prioritizing threatened species only or both species and TECs. We show that when the objective is to maximize benefits for threatened species, a community approach performs poorly due to limited geographic overlap and high costs, while prioritizing species returned 7.5 times more benefits delivered to species under the same budget. Yet, if the objective is to maximize benefits across species and TECs simultaneously, a combined approach including both as surrogates delivers the greatest benefit for the same costs as a species-only approach. Range sizes and taxonomic groups significantly influenced the priority list, with threatened invertebrates and TECs of smaller ranges more likely to be selected as surrogates. Overall, this study emphasizes the importance of incorporating accurate data on factors such as threats and costs for identifying effective management surrogates, and highlights the potential benefits of prioritizing across multiple biodiversity features.

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