Background: Freshwaters are the most threatened ecosystems on earth. Although recent assessments provide data on global priority regions for freshwater conservation, local scale priorities remain unknown. Refining the scale of global biodiversity assessments (both at terrestrial and freshwater realms) and translating these into conservation priorities on the ground remains a major challenge to biodiversity science, and depends directly on species occurrence data of high taxonomic and geographic resolution. Brazil harbors the richest freshwater ichthyofauna in the world, but knowledge on endemic areas and conservation in Brazilian rivers is still scarce. Methodology/Principal Findings: Using data on environmental threats and revised species distribution data we detect and delineate 540 small watershed areas harboring 819 restricted-range fishes in Brazil. Many of these areas are already highly threatened, as 159 (29%) watersheds have lost more than 70% of their original vegetation cover, and only 141 (26%) show significant overlap with formally protected areas or indigenous lands. We detected 220 (40%) critical watersheds overlapping hydroelectric dams or showing both poor formal protection and widespread habitat loss; these sites harbor 344 endemic fish species that may face extinction if no conservation action is in place in the near future. Conclusions/Significance: We provide the first analysis of site-scale conservation priorities in the richest freshwater ecosystems of the globe. Our results corroborate the hypothesis that freshwater biodiversity has been neglected in former conservation assessments. The study provides a simple and straightforward method for detecting freshwater priority areas based on endemism and threat, and represents a starting point for integrating freshwater and terrestrial conservation in representative and biogeographically consistent site-scale conservation strategies, that may be scaled-up following naturally linked drainage systems. Proper management (e. g. forestry code enforcement, landscape planning) and conservation (e. g. formal protection) of the 540 watersheds detected herein will be decisive in avoiding species extinction in the richest aquatic ecosystems on the planet.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)