, Volume 542, Issue 1, pp 39–67 | Cite as

An assessment of animal species diversity in continental waters

  • C. Lévêque
  • E. V. Balian
  • K. MartensEmail author
Review Paper


There is a need for monitoring the status and trends of freshwater biodiversity in order to quantify the impacts of human actions on freshwater systems and to improve freshwater biodiversity conservation. Current projects carrying assessment of freshwater biodiversity focus mainly on leading-better-known groups such as fish, or identify keystone species and/or endemic freshwater systems for conservation purposes. Our purpose is to complete these existing projects by providing quantitative estimates of species number for all freshwater groups on each continent and/or major eco-regions. This article present the results of the first implementation phase carried out from September 2002 to June 2003 and which addressed only freshwater animal species. The project consisted of: (1) compiling existing data from literature, web sites and museum collections; (2) contacting scientific experts of each group to provide a ‘to the best of their knowledge, estimates of species numbers. In this study, we consider as true freshwater species, those that complete part or all of their life cycle in freshwater, and water-dependant species those that need freshwater for food or that permanently use freshwater habitats. The current order of magnitude for known freshwater animal species world wide is 100 000, of which half are insects. Among other groups, there are some 20 000 vertebrate species; 10 000 crustacean species and 5000 mollusc species that are either true freshwater or water-dependant species. The study highlighted gaps in the basic knowledge of species richness at continental and global scales:

(1) Some groups such as Protozoa, nematodes or annelids have been less studied and data on their diversity and distribution is scarce. Because current richness estimates for these groups are greatly biased by knowledge availability, we can expect that real species numbers might be much higher.

(2) Continents are not equal in the face of scientific studies: South America and Asia are especially lacking global estimates of species richness for many groups, even for some usually well-known ones such as molluscs or insects.

The second phase of the project will address freshwater plants and algae. The present status should be considered as a first sketch of the global picture of freshwater biodiversity. We hope that this project will initiate interactive exchange of data to complete and update this first assessment.


freshwater global assessment animal species biodiversity species richness 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut de Recherches pour le DéveloppementVille d’AvrayFrance
  2. 2.DIVERSITASParisFrance
  3. 3.Royal Belgian Institute of Natural SciencesBrusselsBelgium
  4. 4.Department BiologyUniversity of GhentGentBelgium

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