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Freshwater Fact Cards: drawing attention to special freshwater species

August 31, 2022
Freshwater Fact Cards highlight key information about species which deserve special conservation attention. Image: Studio Adén

Freshwaters are some of the most biodiverse yet highly threatened ecosystems in the world. As conservationists have repeatedly highlighted recently, the freshwater biodiversity crisis receives significantly less attention and support than that on land, or in the seas.

Part of this shortfall in attention is due to the nature of freshwater environments. Rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands can often obscure the wildlife they support below the water’s surface. This can make it hard not only to notice their richness, but also any ecological declines.

As a result, highlighting important – but often overlooked – freshwater species has become a key advocacy approach for many conservationists in recent years. In some cases, this approach tallies with ecological theory, which suggests that the conservation of particular ‘umbrella species’ can benefit the health of the wider ecosystem.

A new series of illustrated cards highlights twenty freshwater species that deserve special conservation attention. Scientists from IGB, Berlin and the Alliance for Freshwater Life have curated the project to spotlight species which are often inconspicuous, or found in remote regions, but are vital for freshwater conservation efforts.

The European Sturgeon fact card. Image: Studio Adén

“We chose the twenty species for two reasons,” says project curator Dr. Fengzhi He from IGB. “First, some are considered charismatic and hold the potential to function as flagship umbrella species to enhance freshwater conservation. The selected freshwater megafauna species such as European sturgeon, arapaima, Amazon river dolphin, common hippopotamus, gharial, Chinese giant salamander fall under this category. These are also species targeted in the Freshwater Megafauna Futures project.

“Most of these freshwater megafauna species are threatened, and the Chinese paddlefish has been officially listed as Extinct by the IUCN Red List,” continues Dr. He. “Second, we included species that are closely studied by IGB researchers. Some of these species may be smaller but have important ecological roles in local ecosystems or are key model organisms in freshwater research.”

The Freshwater Fact Cards highlight fascinating information about each of the featured species. For example: How do arapaima breathe? How deep can Baikal seals dive? How fast are hippos? How long can freshwater pearl mussels live? And how do water fleas reproduce?

Baikal seal fact card. Image: Studio Adén
Freshwater pearl mussel fact card. Image: Studio Adén

“We really hope that these fact cards will raise the fascination of people about freshwater life,” says project curator Prof. Sonja Jähnig from IGB. “We are very happy about the nice visualisations and illustrations done by Studio Adén. The cards not only show interesting facts on freshwater species and the research conducted at IGB, but they can be used as postcards or decorations.”

“Freshwater biodiversity is underrepresented in the information presented to the general public, often being out of sight, out of mind. We would like to use the Freshwater Fact Cards to highlight amazing freshwater life and promote public awareness and conservation actions for freshwater biodiversity,” says Dr. He.

“We will distribute the cards widely at outreach events, where visitors can take them as small souvenirs,” says Prof. Jähnig. “The fact cards also support the Alliance for Freshwater Life in their ambition to raise the profile of freshwater biodiversity and make people better understand, value, and safeguard freshwater biodiversity.”

The Freshwater Fact Cards project is still growing. “If you have an idea for which species we should add, or if there is an idea for a new set of species from a certain region, or including other artists, please reach out to us,” says Prof. Jähnig.

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