Human Prejudices Threaten Freshwater Biodiversity

© Courtesy of Derek J. Taylor, University at Buffalo

Please allow me to introduce you to Eurycercus, a tiny crustacean native to fresh waters that are quickly disappearing due to permafrost melt. As a State University of New York at Buffalo team published findings of unexpected crustacean diversity in northern freshwater ecosystems, another study called for better protection of freshwater diversity, finding that tiny Eurycercus and his friends suffer as more "charismatic" species draw research and protection funding.

Fresh waters make up less than 1% of the earth's surface but are home to over one third of the world's known species, including one third of all vertebrates, not just shrimps like the Eurycercus.

A study funded by the European BIOFRESH project mapped 4203 freshwater species and 3521 land species on the African continent against preserves, large dam projects, protected species lists, and other factors. With this overview, they found a research and protection bias towards terrestrial and charismatic species: the lions and tigers and bears that serve as poster children for biodiversity protection in other words.

On the other side of the planet, roaming from Alaska to Russia to Scandinavia, the University at Buffalo team encountered an amazing paradox: biodiversity of the water flea family is greater in the frigid northern freshwater than in the tropics. Derek J. Taylor, a member of the team, attributes the counterintuitive finding to the fact that pockets of the species were preserved in limited areas that remained ice-free during glacial advances.

The two studies together emphasize that fact that biodiversity in freshwater species remains under-appreciated snf under-protected, simply because they live under water where most of the human population remains unaware of their vast contributions to our complex planet's ecosystems. The time has come to make Eurycercus and friends poster children for the vanishing freshwater we depend upon for life itself.

Tags: Biodiversity | Universities | Water Crisis

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