Given species inventories of all sites in a planning area, integer programming or heuristic algorithms can prioritize sites in terms of the site's complementary value, that is, the ability of the site to complement (add unrepresented species to) other sites prioritized for conservation. The utility of these procedures is limited because distributions of species are typically available only as coarse atlases or range maps, whereas conservation planners need to prioritize relatively small sites. If such coarse-resolution information can be used to identify small sites that efficiently represent species (i.e., downscaled), then such data can be useful for conservation planning. We develop and test a new type of surrogate for biodiversity, which we call downscaled complementarity. In this approach, complementarity values from large cells are downscaled to small cells, using statistical methods or simple map overlays. We illustrate our approach for birds in Spain by building models at coarse scale (50 × 50 km atlas of European birds, and global range maps of birds interpreted at the same 50 × 50 km grid size), using this model to predict complementary value for 10 × 10 km cells in Spain, and testing how well-prioritized cells represented bird distributions in an independent bird atlas of those 10 × 10 km cells. Downscaled complementarity was about 63–77% as effective as having full knowledge of the 10-km atlas data in its ability to improve on random selection of sites. Downscaled complementarity has relatively low data acquisition cost and meets representation goals well compared with other surrogates currently in use. Our study justifies additional tests to determine whether downscaled complementarity is an effective surrogate for other regions and taxa, and at spatial resolution finer than 10 × 10 km cells. Until such tests have been completed, we caution against assuming that any surrogate can reliably prioritize sites for species representation.