Launch of the first online Global Freshwater Biodiversity Atlas

29 January 2014 | News story

A new online Atlas of freshwater biodiversity presenting spatial information and species distribution patterns will be launched today at the landmark Water Lives symposium, bringing together European Union policy makers and freshwater scientists. Freshwaters are incredibly diverse habitats; they cover less than 1% of the Earth’s surface yet are home to 35% of all vertebrate species. Sadly, freshwater life is declining at an alarming rate, faster than any other component of global biodiversity.

A challenge for policy is how to integrate protection of freshwater life and the ecosystem services it provides, with real and pressing demands on freshwater resources from the energy, food and sanitation sectors. This new Atlas is a response from freshwater scientists to this policy challenge. It provides policy-makers, water managers and scientists with an online, open-access and interactive gateway to key geographical information and spatial data on freshwater biodiversity across different scales. The Atlas is a resource for better, evidenced-based decision making in the area of water policy, science and management.

The online Atlas adopts a book-like structure allowing easy browsing through its four thematic chapters; I) Patterns of freshwater biodiversity, 2) Freshwater resources and ecosystems, 3) Pressures on freshwater systems and 4) Conservation and management. All of the maps are accompanied by a short article with further contextual background information. The interactive map interface allows easy switching between maps, navigation and zooming and the display of information attached to each map feature. Also, unlike a conventional printed atlas, this online Atlas can be constantly expanded and updated as new maps and data become available.

The IUCN Global Species Programme is a key partner in this project and has, through its Freshwater Biodiversity Unit, led on Work Package 7, where the focus is on “Informing Policy for Conservation Planning”. Key outputs from IUCN’s work include: i) the first map of freshwater Key Biodiversity Areas for Europe; ii) a gap analysis to see how well the existing European Protected Areas network (Natura 2000 in particular) covers FW KBAs; iii) application of Systematic Conservation Planning tools to optimise the KBA network to meet specified targets relating to policy objectives, and iv) an analysis of predicted species range shifts under climate change scenarios and the implications for policy. IUCN has contributed many of the maps coming out of this analysis to the Atlas, in addition to other global scale maps of freshwater species diversity, and will add many more maps in the near future.

The Atlas is an output of BioFresh – an EU-funded project that is putting together the scattered pieces of information about life in our rivers and lakes, to better understand, manage and protect our freshwaters for generations to come. It is edited by a pan-European group of freshwater science and conservation experts from 12 research institutes, and is supported by key international organisations active in the field of freshwater biodiversity research and conservation, namely GEO Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO BON), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Global Water System Project (GWSP), Conservation International (CI), Wetlands International, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

“The Atlas will be of immense value to NGOs, policy-makers and conservation planners working to identify key areas of freshwater biodiversity, create freshwater protected area networks, minimise the harm caused by large-scale land use projects such as dams or to meet conservation targets such as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets” said Dr Will Darwall, Head of the IUCN Freshwater Biodiversity Unit.


For more information please contact:

Dr William Darwall, Head - IUCN Freshwater Biodiversity Unit, William.DARWALL@iucn.org


Fishing on Lake Kosi in St Lucia, South Africa