Aim In this study, I determine the relationships between net primary productivity (NPP), human population density, species richness and land use. I also examine the implications of human settlement patterns for species conservation. Location Australia. Methods I document the associations between NPP, human population density and the species richness of birds, butterflies and mammals using correlations and spatial regressions. I also assess changes in land-use with NPP and population density, focussing particularly on protected areas. An initial exploration into the implications of the NPP-population density relationship for regional conservation strategies is provided.Results Human population density increases with NPP suggesting that available energy may be a key driving force of human settlement patterns. The species richness of each taxonomic group and geographically restricted species also increases with NPP leading to substantial overlap between species diversity and populated regions. The percentage of land designated as minimal use decreases considerably with increasing human population density and NPP, while intensive agriculture is confined entirely to areas of high NPP. There are strong negative relationships between the size of Australia's National Parks and human population density and NPP. Small parks are often surrounded by relatively dense settlements, but have high average NPP, while large parks are mostly isolated and characterized by low productivity. There are no areas in the highest quartile of NPP that also occur in the most sparsely populated regions, presenting challenges for conservation strategies wanting to protect productive areas under the least threat of human development. Main conclusions Human population density and species richness respond similarly to variation in NPP, leading to spatial congruence between human settlements and productive, species rich regions. Reducing the level of threat may require stabilizing the size of the human population, while capturing larger areas of relatively high productivity in the conservation reserve system would lead to greater protection of local diversity.