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Europe's freshwater biodiversity under climate change: distribution shifts and conservation needs




To assess the future climatic suitability of European catchments for freshwater species and the future utility of the current network of protected areas.




Using recently updated catchment-scale species data and climate projections from multiple climate models, we assessed the climate change threat by the 2050s for 1648 European freshwater plants, fishes, molluscs, odonates, amphibians, crayfish and turtles for two dispersal scenarios and identified hotspots of change at three spatial scales: major river basins, countries and freshwater ecoregions. We considered both common species and the often overlooked rare species. To set our findings within the context of current and future conservation networks, we evaluated the coverage of freshwater biodiversity by Europe's protected area network.


Six per cent of common and 77% of rare species are predicted to lose more than 90% of their current range. Eight fish species and nine mollusc species are predicted to experience 100% range loss under climate change. As the most species-rich group, molluscs are particularly vulnerable due to the high proportion of rare species and their relatively limited ability to disperse. Furthermore, around 50% of molluscs and fish species will have no protected area coverage given their projected distributions.

Main conclusions

We identified the species most at threat due to projected changes in both catchment suitability and representation within the European protected area network. Our findings suggest an urgent need for freshwater management plans to facilitate adaptation to climate change.