REDD+ presents novel options for conservation in the tropics, yet it is unclear how biodiversity-focused organizations or actors should react to these carbon-focused opportunities. Here, we critically assess for the first time the expected outcomes of five contrasting scenarios of engagement between a biodiversity actor and REDD+. We discover that in the Berau regency, Indonesia, it is usually beneficial for a biodiversity actor to react in some way to REDD+, but the preferred reaction depends on whether a REDD+ project is already developing in the region, and the scale and type of conservation objectives. In general, from a strict biodiversity perspective, the most cost efficient reaction to the presence of REDD+ is to use biodiversity funds to protect areas neglected by REDD+. Our results demonstrate that if biodiversity actors fail to adapt the way they pursue conservation in the tropics, REDD+ opportunities could go largely untapped.