Rivers, Fish and the Tree of Life

Tree of Life Wikimedia Commons All life on Earth began in the sea some 3.5 billion years ago. Yet there is a twist to this story. New research shows that almost all fish species that inhabit the oceans today moved there from rivers and lakes. This sheds new light on the importance of freshwater ecosystems for life on Earth. And it suggests that by damming and polluting rivers, we may destroy the seed banks of future generations. Terrestrial environments occupy 30 percent of the Earth’s surface, but contain 75-85 percent of all species. Freshwater ecosystems only make up about 2 percent of

Civil Society Statement Regarding Xiaonanhai Dam on the Upper Yangtze River

Great Bend of the Jinsha (upper Yangtze) River, China
Friday, December 16, 2011
Open letter by Professor Fan Xiao, a geologist and environmental scientist in China, endorsed by Chinese environmental groups, Friends of Nature and Green Earth Volunteers, concerning the construction of the Xiaonanhai Dam in the National Nature Reserve of Rare and Endemic Fish in the Upper Yangtze River. Statement Regarding the National Nature Reserve of Rare and Endemic Fish in the Upper Yangtze River On December 12, 2011, the State Council of the People's Republic of China, through Decree [2011] No. 156, issued a notice that the State Council supports the Ministry of Environmental Prot

China’s Rich Natural Heritage Under Threat

Zhou Dequn
Thursday, December 8, 2011
From December 2011 World Rivers Review Dr. Zhou Dequn is a professor at Kunming University of Science and Technology and guest professor at Virginia Tech. He worked for The Nature Conservancy from 2004- 09 and is currently on the editorial board for the journal Plant Pathology & Quarantine. His expertise includes ecology, fungal diversity and conservation biology. We talked to him about China’s biodiversity crisis. WRR: What is known about biodiversity losses in China's rivers? ZD: Currently, our knowledge is relatively limited and mostly focuses on research and active monitoring of a

Where Rivers Flow, Biodiversity Grows

Kieran Suckling
From December 2011 World Rivers Review Kierán Suckling founded the US-based Center for Biological Diversity in 1989. The highly successful Center uses science, law and creative media to protect species on the brink of extinction, primarily in North America. Kieran talked to us about the Center’s work and the importance of biological diversity to humans and the planet. WRR: What inspired you to focus on biodiversity? KS: When I was at university, I was working on a doctoral dissertation looking at both the extinction of species and the extinction of languages. There’s a clear but not

Sweating the Small Stuff

E.O. Wilson
Thursday, December 8, 2011
From December 2011 World Rivers Review Renowned biologist E.O. Wilson grew up exploring the swamps and river bottom forests of Mobile, Alabama. Now in his 80s, his long and distinguished scientific career has included 40 years at Harvard and two Pulitzer Prizes. We talked to him about the biodiversity crisis. WRR: How important are the planet’s freshwater species to life on earth, and how are they faring? EOW: Freshwater systems harbor a large part of Earth’s biodiversity; and meter for meter, their species are even more endangered than those in terrestrial ecosystems. Rivers and thei

Broken Rivers, Broken Policies: Where to from Here?

Rivers need to be “unbroken” to maintain healthy habitats. Dams proposed for the Amazon, for example, would fragment the river in ways that would harm the region’s rich tapestry of life.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
From December 2011 World Rivers ReviewFreshwater biodiversity is in a state of crisis. Recent efforts to protect and sustainably manage freshwater ecosystems have done little to offset the consequences of decades of human exploitation of rivers: large dams, water pollution and over-extraction. While the sources of water pollution can be found and stopped and over-extraction by irrigators can be curtailed, the consequences of building large dams across rivers are largely irreversible. Large dams permanently fragment riverine ecosystems by isolating species (both fish and mammals), interrupt

The Ecological Mysteries of Latin America’s Rivers

This tropical ladyslipper orchid only grows on limestone along streams at the base of the eastern Andes, in Ecuador and Peru.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
From December 2011 World Rivers ReviewLatin America’s watersheds are rich in biodiversity, yet it is remarkable how much we don’t know about the ecology of these rivers. Aquatic and terrestrial species interact in still-mysterious ways, their relationships dependent on rivers’ patterns of flood and drought, of slow and fast currents, of sediment deposit and wetlands and mangroves creation. With the disruption of healthy riverine ecosystems from deforestation and damming, scientist’s opportunity to understand and appreciate these interactions is rapidly disappearing. Yet, plans to d

India’s Community Fish Sanctuaries Protect Wild Fish and Rivers

Waitarna Fish Sanctuary.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Waitarna Fish Sanctuary. Parineeta Dandekar From December 2011 World Rivers ReviewAs elsewhere around the globe, native freshwater fish diversity in India’s rivers is declining rapidly. About a third of the approximately 650 fish species found in India are threatened. Crucial reasons for this decline are destruction of habitats through dams and barrages, pollution, and exploitive fishing practices. Dams in India have converted flowing rivers into reservoirs, which have a profoundly different hydrological character than rivers to which indigenous species have adapted to. Species like Indian

Freshwater Biodiversity in India’s "Hottest Hotspot" in Peril

The rivers and wetlands of the Western Ghats support 174 species of dragonflies.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
The rivers and wetlands of the Western Ghats support 174 species of dragonflies. K.A. Subramanian From December 2011 World Rivers ReviewIndia’s Western "Ghats," which means "river landing stairs" in Hindi, is a mountain range from which numerous rivers and streams flow. These waterways provide sustenance for the moist and fertile lands that surround them. The rivers are also home to diverse fish species, many of which are found only in these rivers. The Western Ghats is the world’s most heavily populated Biodiversity Hotspot, and its rivers provide approximately 400 million people with d

Why We Shouldn’t Dam the Mekong

Giant catfish
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Biological Treasure Trove is World’s Most Productive RiverGiant catfish Zeb Hogan From December 2011 World Rivers ReviewThe Mekong River is still a relatively healthy, natural, free-flowing river. It is one of the most biodiverse rivers on Earth (in terms of freshwater fish). Most of its habitats and connections between habitats are still intact. Remarkably, the Mekong is still capable of producing 2.6 million tons of fish a year, despite fishing pressures from millions of people who depend on the river for sustenance. That makes it the most productive river in the world. The Mekong is als


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