Biological conservation of aquatic inland habitats: these are better days
AbstractThe biodiversity of aquatic inland habitats currently faces unprecedented threats from human activities. At the same time, although much is known about the functioning of freshwater ecosystems the successful transfer of such knowledge to practical conservation has not been universal. Global awareness of aquatic conservation issues is also hampered by the fact that conditions under the water surface are largely hidden from the direct experience of most members of society. Connectivity, or lack of it, is another challenge to the conservation of freshwater habitats, while urban areas can play a perhaps unexpectedly important positive role. Freshwater habitats frequently enjoy benefits accruing from a sense of ownership or stewardship by local inhabitants, which has led to the development of conservation movements which commonly started life centred on the aquatic inland habitat itself but of which many have now matured into wider catchment-based conservation programmes. A demonstrable need for evidence-based conservation management in turn requires scientific assessments to be increasingly robust and standardised, while at the same time remaining open to the adoption of technological advances and welcoming the rapidly developing citizen science movement. There is evidence of real progress in this context and conservation scientists are now communicating their findings to environmental managers in a way and on a scale that was rarely seen a couple of decades ago. It is only in this way that scientific knowledge can be efficiently transferred to conservation planning, prioritisation and ultimately management in an increasingly scaled-up, joined-up and resource-limited world. The principle of ‘prevention is better than cure’ is particularly appropriate to most biological conservation issues in aquatic inland habitats and is inextricably linked to educating and/or nudging appropriate human behaviours. When prevention fails, some form of emergency rescue such as captive breeding or translocations may be justified for particularly important animal or plant populations. However, long-haul missions of habitat rehabilitation or restoration are generally to be preferred even if they usually take many years if not decades to reach fruition. Conservation researchers, managers and practitioners must be realistic in their objectives and timescales for such programmes and take positive steps to communicate such information to stakeholders. Now more than ever, people are interested in conservation and sustainability. There are substantial challenges ahead, but these are better days for the biological conservation of aquatic inland habitats.
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Copyright (c) 2013 Ian J. Winfield
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