|Conservation science is a rapidly developing discipline, and the knowledge base it generates is relevant for practical applications. It is therefore crucial to monitor biases and trends in conservation literature, to track the progress of the discipline and re-align efforts where needed. We evaluated past and present trends in the focus of the conservation literature, and how they relate to conservation needs. We defined the focus of the past literature from 13 published reviews referring to 18,369 article classifications, and the focus of the current literature by analysing 2553 articles published between 2011–2015. We found that some of the historically under-studied biodiversity elements are receiving significantly more attention today, despite being still under-represented. The total proportion of articles on invertebrates, genetic diversity, or aquatic systems is 50%–60% higher today than it was before 2010. However, a disconnect between scientific focus and conservation needs is still present, with greater attention devoted to areas or taxa less rich in biodiversity and threatened biodiversity. In particular, a strong geographical bias persists, with 40% of studies carried out in USA, Australia or the UK, and only 10% and 6% respectively in Africa or South East Asia. Despite some changing trends, global conservation science is still poorly aligned with biodiversity distribution and conservation priorities, especially in relation to threatened species. To overcome the biases identified here, scientists, funding agencies and journals must prioritise research adaptively, based on biodiversity conservation needs. Conservation depends on policy makers and practitioners for success, and scientists should actively provide those who make decisions with the knowledge that best addresses their needs.