New project maps freshwater biodiversity

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The world s first comprehensive database of almost all of the world s freshwater habitats has been compiled.

The ~Freshwater Ecoregions of the World (FEOW) is a collaborative project between the World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy, and has taken over a decade to complete.

The project was carried out to meet the need for effective large-scale conservation planning of valuable freshwater resources.

The FEOW project (www.feow.org) has for the first time regionalised the world s freshwater habitats into 426 conservation areas, something that had already existed for terrestrial and marine habitats.

It is hoped that such mapping of freshwater habitats can allow for a more effective management of the conservation of the worlds freshwaters, both at a local level and globally.

The distinct conservation areas were formed through hybridising ~ecoregions " which are determined by the composition of the fish species found within an area " with the natural catchment areas of river systems.

An ecoregion may exist where a species of fish is endemic, and consequently can only be found within that region. Industry, deforestation and agriculture are among factors can cause the degradation of these habitats and potential extinction of the endemic species, and it is therefore essential that the habitat is identified and conserved.

Over 18,000 species were mapped in the study, including 13,400 species of fish and 4,000 amphibians. Along with areas well-known to possess endemic species, lesser known areas such as Congo s Malebo Pool have been highlighted in the study.

Linking these ecoregions to natural river catchment areas, also known as the watershed, provides a wider view as to where negative impacts on the regions could be occurring.

Deforestation, for example, may not affect an ecoregion directly " but have a knock-on effect where from where it is occurring elsewhere within the same catchment area. The conservation areas formed through this project can therefore provide an essential basis for the planning and practical implementation of conservation projects.

Our lack of knowledge of freshwater species has hindered our efforts to conserve rivers, lakes and wetlands around the world.

Simply having a map that shows areas rich in freshwater species will help us set conservation priorities and begin to put a face to these unique and essential species, which work to keep our freshwater ecosystems alive and running, said Carmen Revenga of The Nature Conservancy.

For more information, see the paper: Abell, R., Thieme, M.L., Revenga, C., Bryer, M., Kottelat, M., Bogutskaya, N., Coad, B., Mandrak, N., Balderas, S.C., Bussing, W., Stiassny, M.L.J., Skelton, P., Allen, G.R., Unmack, P., Naseka, A., Rebecca NG, Sindorf, N., Robertson, J., Armijo, E., Higgins, J.V., Heibel, T.J., Wikramanayake, E., Olson, D., Lopez, H.A., Reis, R.E., Lundberg, J.G., Perez, M.H.S. and Petry, P. (2008). ~Freshwater Ecoregions of the World: A New Map of Biogeographic Units for Freshwater Biodiversity Conservation. Bioscience, volume 58, number 5.