Freshwater biodiversity

The Freshwater Biodiversity Unit aims to put in place a factual basis for efforts to conserve and manage freshwater biodiversity.
Pseudagrion kamiranzovu

Freshwater biodiversity is facing unprecedented levels of threat. Through The River Bank we aim to raise awareness about these delicate ecosystems and raise the necessary funds to put more freshwater species on the map, leading to conservation action on the ground.

The River Bank


An estimated 126,000 described species rely on freshwater habitats, including species of fishes, molluscs, reptiles, insects, plants, and mammals. With the inclusion of undescribed species, this number could rise to over one million. Species richness in relation to area of habitat is extremely high in many freshwater groups. Freshwater fishes comprise almost 45% of all fishes and freshwater molluscs about 25% of all molluscs. An estimated 15,000 fish (including brackishwater species), 4,300 amphibians, 5,600 Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies), and 5,000 mollusc species depend on freshwater habitats. Other major groups dependent upon freshwater include reptiles, insects, plants, and mammals.

The importance of freshwater species, ecosystems and services to human livelihoods and wellbeing is increasingly being recognised, and the FBU works in a number of areas to provide the information to support decisions for the protection of wetland species and livelihoods.

To conserve and manage freshwater biodiversity, the FBU works in conjunction with the SSC’s Specialist Groups (including the IUCN/SSC/WI Freshwater Fish Specialist Group, the Freshwater Plant Specialist Group, the Dragonfly SG and the Mollusc SG), the Species Information Service, the Global Amphibian Assessment Programme, regional scientists, experts in freshwater biodiversity and policy makers. We have a key partnership with Conservation International's Center for Applied Biodiversity Science, with which we are working to undertake regional and global freshwater assessments.

Freshwater Biodiversity Unit Objectives:

  • To build expertise and capacity on freshwater biodiversity through the establishment of regional networks
  • To establish a freshwater biodiversity information system within the SSC Species Information Service (SIS)
  • To carry out status assessments (IUCN Red List) for key groups of freshwater species and identify critical sites for the conservation of these species groups
  • To determine key threatening processes and priority conservation actions in each region and assess the priority requirements for freshwater biodiversity conservation
  • Communicate the results of the project to governments, donors and NGOs to raise awareness and include freshwater biodiversity conservation in their priorities for action
  • Demonstrate the link between biodiversity and livelihoods through interdisciplinary approaches.

For more information contact William Darwall - Head IUCN Freshwater Biodiversity Unit 



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