Although the aim of conservation planning is the persistence of biodiversity, current methods trade-off ecological realism at a species level in favour of including multiple species and landscape features. For conservation planning to be relevant, the impact of landscape configuration on population processes and the viability of species needs to be considered. We present a novel method for selecting reserve systems that maximize persistence across multiple species, subject to a conservation budget. We use a spatially explicit metapopulation model to estimate extinction risk, a function of the ecology of the species and the amount, quality and configuration of habitat. We compare our new method with more traditional, area-based reserve selection methods, using a ten-species case study, and find that the expected loss of species is reduced 20-fold. Unlike previous methods, we avoid designating arbitrary weightings between reserve size and configuration; rather, our method is based on population processes and is grounded in ecological theory.