The efficient representation of all species in conservation planning is problematic. Often, species distribution is assessed by dividing the land into a grid; complementary sets of grids, in which each taxon is represented at least once, are then sought. To determine if this approach provides useful surrogate information, species and higher taxon data for South African plants and animals were analyzed. Complementary species sets did not coincide and overlapped little with higher taxon sets. Survey extent and taxonomic knowledge did not affect this overlap. Thus, the assumptions of surrogacy, on which so much conservation planning is based, are not supported.