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Assessing the state of freshwater biodiversity monitoring: A global perspective

  • Assessing the state of freshwater biodiversity monitoring: global perspective

About the entity

IHE Delft Institute for Water Education is the largest international graduate water education facility in the world.

Freshwater ecosystems play a vital role in sustaining biodiversity and supporting human livelihoods. Monitoring and assessing the health of these key ecosystems on a global scale is as crucial as it is challenging: a lack of harmonization leads to data that can’t be easily compared. A new open-source paper charts a way forward.

The paper, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, highlights a notable gap in biodiversity monitoring efforts. It analyses the results of a comprehensive survey on the adoption of national and sub-national freshwater benthic macroinvertebrate protocols, with 110 respondents in 67 countries, and concludes that while bioassessment programmes are more prevalent, the systematic monitoring of biodiversity across lakes, rivers, and artificial waterbodies is lacking.

The study was conducted by the IUCN SSC Global Freshwater Macroinvertebrate Sampling Protocols Task Force (GLOSAM) lead by John Simaika, IHE Delft Senior Lecturer in Aquatic Ecology & Conservation  and Andreas Bruder, Senior Scientist (Freshwater Ecology) at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland (SUSPI).

Safeguarding biodiversity

The taskforce identified 20 distinct gaps and challenges across five key categories: field sampling, sample processing and identification, metrics and indices, assessment methodologies, and miscellaneous hurdles. The lack of harmonization emerged as a significant barrier, impeding collaboration and hindering the comparability of data across regions.

"Efforts to monitor and assess the health of freshwater ecosystems are critical for conservation and sustainable management," Simaika said. “By addressing the identified gaps and challenges and promoting global harmonization, we can make biodiversity monitoring programmes more effective, contributing to the long-term resilience of freshwater ecosystems. Collaborative initiatives such as GLOSAM provide a pathway towards safeguarding the invaluable biodiversity found within freshwater habitats.”

Evidence to support management

As next steps, GLOSAM plans to provide guidance for protocols using freshwater macroinvertebrates where they are lacking or inappropriately applied and seek to identify harmonized approaches that are compatible with existing protocols, making data comparison possible. In addition, GLOSAM will establish a Community of Practice to facilitate information sharing.

“The ultimate goal is to be able to track the extent and magnitude of the effect that human activities have on freshwater ecosystems, globally with high confidence in the results, thus allowing communities and governments, with evidence on their side, to make appropriate management decisions,” Simaika, Bruder and co-authors write in the paper.

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