Conservation biologists assign population distinctiveness by classifying populations as evolutionarily significant units (ESUs). Historically, this classification has included ecological and genetic data. However, recent ESU concepts, coupled with increasing availability of data on neutral genetic variation, have led to criteria based exclusively on molecular phylogenies. We argue that the earlier definitions of ESUs, which incorporated ecological data and genetic variation of adaptive significance, are more relevant for conservation. Furthermore, this dichotomous summary (ESU or not) of a continuum of population differentiation is not adequate for determining appropriate management actions. We argue for a broader categorization of population distinctiveness based on concepts of ecological and genetic exchangeability (sensu Templeton).