We provide an overview of publications from three prominent conservation journals (Biodiversity & Conservation, Biological Conservation and Conservation Biology) published in 2001 (n = 547 papers). We found a wide breadth of studies of different topics from different climates and habitats and across a range of spatial scales. Most studies were quantitative (89%) and used inferential statistics (63%). Research was biased towards vertebrates, forests, relatively pristine landscapes, and towards studies of single species and assemblages rather than communities or ecosystems. Despite assertions in the literature that conservation is synthetic, eclectic and multi-disciplinary, few studies were truly cross-disciplinary (13%). In addition, few studies investigated the loss of native vegetation (2%), or specifically studied introduced (4%) or non-threatened species (4%). 20% and 37% of studies had high relevance to policy and management, respectively. However, only 12.6% of studies actively went out to test or review conservation actions. Although many topics are covered in the literature, improvements are possible. We suggest: (1) broadening the number of habitats, taxonomic groups and scales studied and (2) providing closer and clearer links with other disciplines and research approaches, and with policy and management.