Freshwater biodiversity must be given a higher priority

Bird flying over lake with sun in the background

In a new publication in Ecology Letters, researchers propose a research agenda with 15 priorities aimed at improving research on biodiversity in lakes, rivers, ponds and wetlands. Photo: D. Meyers/Unsplash

Research and conservation of freshwater biodiversity is lagging behind. Researchers propose 15 priorities to improve knowledge on biodiversity in lakes, rivers, ponds and wetlands

Story highlights

  • Freshwater biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate
  • 95 researchers from 38 countries propose a research agenda with 15 priorities for research topics and conservation measures for freshwater biodiversity
  • The agenda reflects a representative diversity of opinion from the Global South and Global North

UNDER THE SURFACE: Freshwater biodiversity research and conservation lag far behind the efforts carried out in terrestrial and marine environments, say researchers from 88 scientific institutions worldwide.

In a new publication in Ecology Letters, they propose a research agenda with 15 priorities aimed at improving research on biodiversity in lakes, rivers, ponds and wetlands. This is urgently needed, as freshwater biodiversity is being destroyed two times faster than on land or in the oceans.

"Despite the ongoing, unprecedented decline, international and intergovernmental science-policy platforms, funding agencies and major non-profit initiatives still fail to give freshwater biodiversity the priority it deserves."

Alain Maasri, lead author of the study, based at the Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB).

Freshwater biodiversity encompasses the genes, populations, species, communities, and ecosystems of all inland waters. It provides services that are vital to human well-being.

“Freshwater biodiversity is exceptionally rich, but also is disproportionately threatened. What’s particularly problematic is that freshwater biodiversity remains understudied. A joint global agenda helps to raise awareness and catalyze research efforts” comments centre researcher Jan Kuiper, co-author of the new article.

The agenda reflects the collective opinion of researchers from 38 countries, of which approximately half in the Global South.

"Lakes, rivers, ponds and wetlands should be explicitly recognized as important habitats and ecosystems in their own right by policy makers and funding organisations, and in management and restoration programmes," adds co-author Sonja Jähnig from the Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries.

15 priorities

Inland waters are often subsumed within terrestrial systems during environmental assessments and in funding programs, while they face unique pressures. All in all only a small fraction of the available funding for environmental work is allocated specifically to freshwater systems.

The authors of the agenda identified 15 priorities and grouped these into five major areas.

The 15 priorities include:

Data infrastructure

1. Establish a comprehensive overview of data

2. Effectively mobilize and digitize existing data

3. Develop accessible databases according to the principles of discoverability, accessibility, interoperability and reusability (FAIR data principles).


4. Coordinate existing monitoring programs and establish new ones

5. Identify and address biodiversity knowledge gaps

6. Develop innovative methods for biodiversity monitoring.


7. Understand mechanistic relationships between biodiversity and ecosystem services

8. Examining biodiversity responses to various stressors

9. Examine ecological and evolutionary responses of organisms, communities and ecosystems to global change.


10. Evaluation of restoration activities

11. Development of management strategies consistent with Nature Futures scenarios

12. Development of landscape perspectives for management and ecologically sound dam construction and operation concepts.

Social ecology

13. Incorporate social science into biodiversity research

14. Development of methods for assessing trade-offs among ecological, economic and social needs

15. Systematic development of citizen science and participatory research.

‘Call to arms’

The authors hope for more political support in the case of conflicting goals between ecological, economic and social interests through the involvement of local communities and experts. This also implies the inclusion of traditional and indigenous ecological knowledge.

"It‘s not about pointing fingers at policy makers or other stakeholders. It is up to all of us – including us researchers – to set priorities and work better together," conclude the authors.

Link to publication

Published: 2021-12-16

Related info

Maasri A, Jähnig SC, Adamescu M, Adrian R, Baigun C, Baird D, Batista-Morales A, Bonada N, Brown L, Cai Q, Campos-Silva J, Clausnitzer V, Contreras-MacBeath T. 2021. A Global Agenda for Advancing Freshwater Biodiversity Research; Ecology Letters; DOI: 10.1111/ele.13931.


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