© naturepl.com / Tony Heald / WWF
Freshwater Biodiversity
Freshwater ecosystems cover less than 1% of Earth's surface, yet are home to at least 10% of Earth's species.

Freshwater habitats are incredibly diverse, with more than 400 large-scale ecoregions and thousands of rivers, lakes, and wetlands.
Freshwaters are also hotspots for biodiversity. They are home to at least 140,000 specialist freshwater species!
Due to their isolation and the specific challenges of living in a freshwater environment, levels of endemism are also extremely high. Over half of freshwater fish species are found in just one single ecoregion. 

© WWF-Malaysia / Mazidi Abd Ghani


Freshwater specialist species complete all or part of their life cycle in fresh or brackish water ecosystems and have physiological and behavioural adaptions to the freshwater environment.  

Freshwater associated species have a strong association with freshwater ecosystems, for example, for food or habitat. 

Freshwater Biodiversity at risk
Globally, wetlands have declined three times faster than forests, and freshwater vertebrate populations have declined by 84% since 1970 according to our Living Planet Report 2020; twice the rate of decline of biodiversity in terrestrial or marine biomes.

One third of all freshwater species are at threat of extinction including: 61% of freshwater turtles; 40% of amphibians; 30% freshwater fishes; and 43% of freshwater mammals. One quarter of Critically Endangered species are freshwater species.

The main causes of biodiversity loss are flow alteration, pollution, habitat degradation and loss, overexploitation of species, and invasive non-native species.
What's our impact on freshwater species


Emergency Recovery Plan

To tackle the threats and bend the freshwtaer biodiversity curve, the Emergency Recovery Plan highlights six main solutions that are science-based and proven successful in certain locations. These priority actions are:

  1. Let rivers flow more naturally;

  2. Improve water quality in freshwater ecosystems;

  3. Protect and restoring critical habitats;

  4. End overfishing & unsutainable sand minidng in rivers & lakes;

  5. Prevent and control invasions by non-native species; 

  6. Protect free flowing rivers & removing obsolete dams. 

Learn more about the Emergency Recovery Plan
WWF Freshwater Species Initiatives