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Threats to biodiversity

This project is jointly organised by the DIVERSITAS freshwaterBIODIVERSITY and ESSP-GWSP projects. The origin of this project is a synthesis paper published by the Members of the freshwaterBIODIVERSITY Scientific Committee "Freshwater biodiversity: Importance, threats, status and conservation challenges" (Dudgeon et al. 2006. Biological Review).

This ongoing effort, which started in 2008 following a series of workshops , produced in 2010 the first multi-factor, high resolution geospatial assessment of the state of contemporary river ecosystems, presenting global-scale geographies of impairment, arising from the management and mismanagement of water, watersheds, and fisheries; local and transboundary pollution; and introduced species. This joint study is also unique by exploring the issue from two perspectives, one associated with threat to human water security (HWS) and the other to riverine biodiversity. It thus unites otherwise distinct and often contrary viewpoints traditionally pursued in the water security scholarship arena. The work identified the chief determinants of threats to HWS and riverine biodiversity and ranked their global and regional importance. It also uncovered and continues to study the impact of economic and governance-related determinants of the beneficiary effects of existing water management infrastructure investments, in particular as they reduce potential HWS threat, and drew conclusions on the value of parallel investments to riverine biodiversity through integrated water resource management and ecosystem protection.

The results were published in a Nature article by C Vorosmarty and P McIntyre in September 2010. DIVERSITAS and GWSP organised a media campaign on this paper leading to an important media coverage for this project. The results were also presented at a side event during the COP10 of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Based on these results, three avenues are currently developed:

  • Prediction of future global threats to freshwater services in relation to climate change, population change, landuse change. This activity explores what shifting threats mean for ecosystem services (e.g. water consumption, agro-industrial uses, fisheries) and how to integrate global flows of trade.
  • Global freshwater biodiversity hotspots analysis: the data for freshwater biodiversity used in the Nature paper were strongly approximated (fish species richness). The goal of this activity is to extend it to other taxa.
  • Global mapping of freshwater fisheries as a key service: comparison of data from fisheries catches with those of fish species richness. Il will be used to assess the diversity-productivity and diversity-stability relationships.


Project's participants

  • Coordinators: Peter B McIntyre, University of Michigan, USA, and Charles J Vörösmarty, University of New York, USA
  • Mark O Gessner, Leibniz - Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, Germany
  • David Dudgeon, The University of Hong Kong, China
  • Alex Prusevich, University of New Hampshire, USA
  • Pamela Green, University of NewYork, USA
  • S Glidden, University of New Hampshire, USA
  • Stuart E Bunn, Griffith University, Australia
  • Caroline Sullivan, Southern Cross University, Australia
  • Cathy Reidy Liermann, University of Washington, USA
  • P M Davies, University of Western Australia, Australia


Project's publication

Vörösmarty C. J., McIntyre P. B., Gessner M. O., Dudgeon D., Prusevich A., Green P., Glidden S., Bunn S. E., Sullivan C. A., Reidy Liermann C., Davies P. M. 2010. Global Threats to Human Water Security and River Biodiversity. Nature. 467: 5555-561 (30 Sept. 2010)

Dudgeon D, Arthington AH, Gessner MO, Kawabata Z, Knowler D, Lévêque C, Naiman RJ, Prieur-Richard A-H, Soto D and Stiassny MLJ. 2006. Freshwater biodiversity: Importance, threats, status and conservation challenges. Biological Reviews, 81. 163-182


Project's workshops and conferences

CBD COP10 side event "Wetlands, Water, Livelihoods and Biodiversity Linkages in a Global Water Crisis"

20 October 2010 - Nagoya, Japan

Sponsor: Wetland International

C Vorosmarty presentation "Global analysis of threats to freshwater ecosystems: links between biodiversity and water security."


Symposium at the DIVERSITAS OSC2: The Freshwater Biodiversity Crisis: a global threat to ecosystems and people”.

13-16 October 2009 - Cape Town, S-Africa


Contact: Klement Tockner, Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, Germany, and Charles Vorosmarty, University of New-York, USA



  • Charles Vörösmarty: Humans transforming the global water system: what does this mean for nature?
  • David Dudgeon: Freshwater biodiversity in the Anthropocene
  • Caroline Sullivan: Understanding the anthropocentric value of wetland functionality as a means of supporting habitat protection and freshwater biodiversity
  • Bradley Cardinale: What fraction of species do we need to maintain a functioning ecosystem?
  • Klement Tockner, Joerg Freyhof, Daniel Hering, Nike Sommerwerk, Diego Tonolla, Markus Venhor: Setting priorities for conserving freshwater biodiversity at the catchments scale
  • Margaret Palmer: River futures: can we recover lost biodiversity and ecosystem function?


Third workshop: A global threat analysis of fresh waters

23-26 October 2008 - Zürich, Switzerland

Sponsors: DIVERSITAS, ESSP-GWSP, Swiss National Science Foundation

This workshop brought together scientists and computer specialists from four continents to finalise the first spatially explicit account of threats to the world’s fresh waters. It united expertise from a hydrology- and ecosystem-based international panel that aims at synthesising information of fresh waters at the global scale (ESSP-GWSP,) and from the DIVERSITAS freshwaterBIODIVERSITY project, which aims at assessing the
causes and consequences of freshwater biodiversity impairment and mitigation strategies to reverse current trends.

Contact: Mark O Gessner, Leibniz - Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, Germany


Second workshop: A global threat analysis of fresh waters

May 2008 - New-York, USA


The objective of this second workshop was to refine the conceptual framework of this study, to compile a list of the data needs and to start organising the analyses of global threats to both freshwater biodiversity and water human security.

Contact: Charles J Vörösmarty, University of New York, USA


DIVERSITAS freshwaterBIODIVERSITY and ecoSERVICES workshop: Sustainable Freshwaters: biodiversity, resilience and the value of ecosystem services”
25-28 February 2008 - Seattle, USA

The purpose of the workshop aimed at delivering several products:

  1. Providing training capacity by connecting young American researchers (BESTnet Fellows) with top scientists
  2. Develop synthesis papers from the discussions.
  3. Identify future research activities related to the broad theme of “Sustainable Freshwaters”.

The main goal of the workshop was to discuss challenges for sustainable freshwater biodiversity based on a set of introductory presentations:

  1. Status and vulnerability of freshwater biodiversity (D Dudgeon & K Martens)
  2. Connecting freshwater biodiversity to ecosystem processes (M Gessner)
  3. Conservation challenges in the global Great Lakes (P McIntyre)
  4. Stoichiometric links between consumer diversity and ecosystem processes (J Hood)
  5. Sustaining freshwater biodiversity: environmental flows (A Arthington)
  6. Linking research on flow alteration and biodiversity at the global scale (C Reidy Liermann)
  7. Sediment flows as vectors of vitality and biocomplexity to riparian ecosystems (J S Bechtold)
  8. Considering the value of valuation (C Sullivan, J O’Keeffe & D Knowler)
  9. Application of biodiversity/ecological knowledge to solve conservation problems (M McClain)

This workshop has been the starting point of this project "Global threats to freshwater biodiversity" as well as of future activities on the topic of freshwater ecosystem functioning.

Contact: Robert Naiman, University of Washington, USA

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