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Scientific strategy

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Introduction

This is a critical time for organisms living in continental waters. Quite literally, the hydrological regimes and the freshwater ecosystems of the Earth are being drastically altered to meet the needs of rapidly expanding societies and standards of living (see figure below; Global Biodiversity Outlook 3, 2010). Human-mediated changes to flow regimes, to the land and to the atmosphere are central in this process. Certainly, the environmental characteristics that helped shape the evolution of freshwater diversity in lakes, rivers and ground water and the life histories of individual species will be different in the future. These major changes to one of the Earth's most basic biophysical systems are taking place with only a rudimentary understanding of the organisms, their interactions, and the ecosystem services they deliver, being affected and the larger-scale consequences of those changes. Understanding freshwater biodiversity presents a great challenge to scientists, managers and policy makers as millions of local decisions are made annually around the globe that affect biodiversity and the sustainable use of fresh water.
Although water and water conservation are issues of global concern, most projects and international agreements do not adequately address freshwater biodiversity. There is an urgent need to improve documentation and understanding of freshwater biodiversity itself, and the ecosystem goods and services that it provides. These are the main goals of the freshwaterBIODIVERSITY project of DIVERSITAS.

 

To address the challenges facing freshwater biodiversity , DIVERSITAS is implementing a science agenda (Naiman et al. 2006) featuring key research needs and effective measures and conservation actions, which are organised around three key research foci:

Focus 1: Inventorying freshwater biodiversity

Freshwater ecosystems are declining globally in extent and number, some at dramatic rates (Global Biodiversity Outlook 3, 2010). As a result, threats to freshwater biodiversity are particularly severe (Dudgeon et al. 2006). This focus aims at expanding the assessment of biodiversity in freshwater ecosystems and in understanding the environmental and evolutionary drivers of freshwater biodiversity changes.

Focus 2: Freshwater systems and ecosystem functioning: consequences of biodiversity changes

This focus aims at identifying the impacts of freshwater biodiversity changes on ecosystem functioning, connecting the effects to freshwater-related services provided to society.

Focus 3: Fresh water for the future: balancing human use and biodiversity protection

Freshwater ecosystem management needs to be reassessed to allow human populations to "meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Brundtland Report, 1987 UN publication). The overall objective of this focus is to fully account for impacts of social choices on biodiversity and to incorporate this information into decision-making processes.

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