One of the most pressing issues facing the global conservation community is how to distribute limited resources between regions identified as priorities for biodiversity conservation. Approaches such as biodiversity hotspots, endemic bird areas and ecoregions are used by international organizations to prioritize conservation efforts globally. Although identifying priority regions is an important first step in solving this problem, it does not indicate how limited resources should be allocated between regions. Here we formulate how to allocate optimally conservation resources between regions identified as priorities for conservation--the 'conservation resource allocation problem'. Stochastic dynamic programming is used to find the optimal schedule of resource allocation for small problems but is intractable for large problems owing to the "curse of dimensionality". We identify two easy-to-use and easy-to-interpret heuristics that closely approximate the optimal solution. We also show the importance of both correctly formulating the problem and using information on how investment returns change through time. Our conservation resource allocation approach can be applied at any spatial scale. We demonstrate the approach with an example of optimal resource allocation among five priority regions in Wallacea and Sundaland, the transition zone between Asia and Australasia.