Freshwater Biodiversity Working Group


Objectives for the theme (i) on Flow alteration and threatened species distributions. The key question of this theme of the working group is to identify the relationship between flow alteration and species extinctions and vulnerability, on a global scale.  Flow alteration can come from a range of processes including the proliferation of dams and other water storage facilities, direct extraction of water from the river channel, and groundwater pumping.  Such alterations can change the magnitude of river flows, and alter the rate of change of flows. Associated with these factors are changes in the timing and duration of key flow events, reduction in the frequency of key types of flow events such as flood pulses, and changes in flows that connect habitats.  Understanding how such flow alterations affect species’ vulnerability to extinction across the globe will provide crucial information for the sustainable development of water resources and achieving sustainable development goals (in particular 6 and 15).

The proposed research for theme (i) on Flow alteration and threatened species distributions will involve a global analysis of the spatial distribution of flow alteration and threatened species richness, coupled with regional case studies. After assembling regional and global hydrologic datasets, overall objectives will include:

  1. Identifying the relationship (if any) between increased flow alteration and species vulnerability; and
  2. Developing regional case-studies in the context of the global analysis

The objectives for the theme (ii) on integrating in-situ observations with remotely sensed earth observation data is to link satellite imagery as well as environmental data of societal relevance (pollution, water stress, hydropower), so that trajectories of species and ecological assemblages can be predicted. This work will combine biological distribution information of about 53184 freshwater species from the Freshwater Information Platform (FIP) with environmental data from  HydroATLAS – a global database of 200 environmental variables attached to 1 million catchments globally. The work will support:

  1. mobilisation and integration of freshwater ecosystem data for application to diverse research programs, including theme (i) above;
  2. development of a global approach to scenario forecasting; and
  3. priority setting for major international conventions and agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the Convention on Migratory Species, and the Sustainable Development Goals.


Currently, key activities for both themes of the working group include:

  1. Scoping meetings (incl. conference calls and working group workshop).
  2. Data acquisition and preparation
  3. Case study identification
  4. Initial analyses and reporting
  5. Identify potential proposals for funding


  • Chair: Ian Harrison –  Conservation International/IUCN (theme 1 & 2)
  • Ben Stewart-Koster – Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University (theme 1)
  • Jeremy Piffady –  IRSTEA (theme 1)
  • Carmel Pollino –  CSIRO (theme 1)
  • Christof Schneider –  Center for Environmental Systems Research, University of Kassel (theme 1)
  • Pete McIntyre –  Centre for Limnology, University of Wisconsin (theme 1)
  • Shannan Crow –  National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (theme 1)
  • Kris van Looy – IRSTEA (theme 1)
  • Martina Floerke – Center for Environmental Systems Research, University of Kassel (theme 1)
  • Yoshi Wada – International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (theme 1)
  • Pamela Green – Advanced Science Research Centre, City University of New York (theme 1)
  • Simon Linke – Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University; IUCN-WCPA Freshwater Specialist Group (theme 2)
  • Adrian Strauch – GEO Wetlands, University of Bonn (theme 2)
  • Jörg Freyhof – Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, Berlin, FIP (theme 2)
  • Will Darwall – IUCN Global Species Programme, Freshwater Biodiversity Unit (theme 2)
  • Lammert Hilarides –  Wetlands International (theme 2)
  • Sonja Jähnig –  Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, Berlin, FIP (theme 2)
  • Bernhard Lehner –  McGill University (theme 2)
  • Marc Paganini –  European Space Agency (theme 2)
  • Vanessa Reis –  Griffith University (theme 2)
  • Roger Sayre –  USGS (theme 2)
  • Eren Turak – Freshwater Ecosystem Change Working Group in GEO BON (theme 2)
  • Aaike de Wever – Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, FIP (theme 2)
  • Vanessa Bremerich – Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, Berlin, FIP (theme 2)


The loss of biodiversity through species extinctions and severe alteration of ecological communities is a major global issue and is particularly acute in freshwater systems, where the loss of biodiversity represents a disproportionate amount of global species losses.  The causes of species becoming vulnerable to extinction and ultimately extinct are numerous, however they frequently involve some form of habitat degradation. In freshwater systems this can involve changes to the land through which the river flows, changes to in-stream habitat itself, and alteration of a river’s flow regime. The two themes of the biodiversity working group will investigate changes in freshwater ecosystems, and causes of biodiversity loss. It will include large-scale monitoring, integrating field collected data with remote sensing of habitat conditions and land-use, applying next generation modelling techniques. While the two sub-components of the Working Group will work on different questions, with different modelling techniques, data infrastructure and models will be shared where possible.

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