What Do We Know About Freshwater Habitats
How much do you know about freshwater habitats?
In basic terms, these liquid lifelines are refreshing, abundant and run throughout the planet. From mountainous rivers to desert oases, these fertile sources of freshwater are habitats for a range of plant and animal life. Freshwater is essential for our planet to function, vital for people and wildlife; freshwater systems need careful management and protection in order to keep clean water flowing where it needs to go.
How large are they?
While land accounts for roughly 28% of the Earth’s surface, it is here that about 80% of all plant and animal life is found – 11% of that figure is found in freshwater ecosystems, a habitat that encompasses 5% of all plant species. Despite being small in size, freshwater ecosystems offer the highest animal species richness per unit geographical area, according to findings by the University of Arizona. They may be small in comparison to the 70% surface area of oceans covering our blue planet but they are mighty powerhouses of life on Earth.
How diverse are they?
Interestingly, the Arizona study assessed phylogenetic diversity per unit area of differing habitat type (i.e. ocean, freshwater and land). The findings demonstrated that the richness of plants and animals in freshwater habitats was at least double that of land and ocean habitats. Such a high diversity and richness in freshwater systems speaks to the importance of maintaining these crucial ecosystems for plant, animal and human health. Even the tropical Amazon rainforest provides a staggering 15% of our freshwater, showing the delicate and important relationship between a range of different ecosystems and the health of the planet as a whole.
Who needs freshwater habitats?
Freshwater habitats range from rivers and streams to wetlands and lakes; there are even underground freshwater habitats. These environments store and clean water needed for plant, animal and human life. Whether it’s growing crops, drinking water or allowing aqua and plant life to thrive, we all need freshwater habitats to keep the Earth functioning as we know it.
What role can humans play in freshwater habitats?
Human activity has polluted, damaged and destroyed a range of freshwater habitats. Building development on wetlands, the drying of rivers, polluting lakes and loss of wetland and their wildlife has had catastrophic outcomes. Interfering with freshwater habitats causes a range of environmental impacts ranging from severe flooding to deadly drought. Where humans are concerned, freshwater habitats should therefore be managed appropriately and carefully to ensure optimum health of our waterways.
Closer to home, EU water quality standards ensured the UK waters remained clean and managed. Since leaving the EU, new UK legislation has come into place with a management plan to keep water standards high over the next 25 years.
Creating more protections for freshwater ecosystems could aid in the efficient conservation of diverse animal and plant species on our planet. We have a unique opportunity to devise management systems in order to protect these precious and valuable habitats now and for the future.