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October 13, 2009

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Freshwater species the most threatened

CREATURES and plants living in rivers and lakes are the most threatened on Earth because their ecosystems are collapsing, according to scientists.
They have urged the creation of a new partnership between governments and scientists to help stem extinctions caused by humans via pollution, a spread of cities and expanding farms to feed a rising population, climate change and invasive species.
Governments globally have aimed to slow the losses of all species by next year.
"Massive mismanagement and growing human needs for water are causing freshwater ecosystems to collapse, making freshwater species the most threatened on Earth," according to Diversitas, an international grouping of biodiversity experts.
Extinction rates for species living in freshwater were "4-6 times higher than their terrestrial and marine cousins."
Fish, frogs, crocodiles or turtles are among freshwater species.
"The 2010 target isn't going to be met," said Hal Mooney, a professor at Stanford University, who is chair of Diversitas.
Diversitas will hold talks among more than 600 experts in Cape Town, South Africa, on October 13-16 to discuss ways to protect life.
World leaders agreed at a 2002 Earth Summit in Johannesburg to achieve by 2010 a "significant reduction in the current rate of loss of biological diversity."
"Changes to ecosystems and losses of biodiversity have continued to accelerate ... Species extinction rates are at least 100 times those in pre-human times and are expected to continue to increase," said Georgina Mace of Imperial College in London.
Dams, irrigation and climate change that is set to disrupt rainfall are all putting stresses on freshwater habitats.
Canals allow plants, fish and other species and diseases to reach new regions, according to the scientists.
"You can travel from France to Russia without going to the sea any more," said Klement Tockner of the Leibnitz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries.
"Mixing is much faster and more severe than in marine and terrestrial habitats."
Anne Larigauderie, executive director of Diversitas, urged creation of a new panel for monitoring extinctions modelled on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.


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