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Climate change and freshwater biodiversity: detected patterns, future trends and adaptations in northern regions

Authors

  • Jani Heino,

    Corresponding author
    1. Finnish Environment Institute, Research Programme for Biodiversity, P.O. Box 413, FI-90014 University of Oulu, Finland
    2. Department of Biology, University of Oulu, P.O. Box 3000, FI-90014 University of Oulu, Finland
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  • Raimo Virkkala,

    1. Finnish Environment Institute, Research Programme for Biodiversity, P.O. Box 140, FI-00251 Helsinki, Finland
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  • Heikki Toivonen

    1. Finnish Environment Institute, Research Programme for Biodiversity, P.O. Box 140, FI-00251 Helsinki, Finland
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* E-mail: jani.heino@ymparisto.fi

Abstract

Current rates of climate change are unprecedented, and biological responses to these changes have also been rapid at the levels of ecosystems, communities, and species. Most research on climate change effects on biodiversity has concentrated on the terrestrial realm, and considerable changes in terrestrial biodiversity and species’ distributions have already been detected in response to climate change. The studies that have considered organisms in the freshwater realm have also shown that freshwater biodiversity is highly vulnerable to climate change, with extinction rates and extirpations of freshwater species matching or exceeding those suggested for better-known terrestrial taxa. There is some evidence that freshwater species have exhibited range shifts in response to climate change in the last millennia, centuries, and decades. However, the effects are typically species-specific, with cold-water organisms being generally negatively affected and warm-water organisms positively affected. However, detected range shifts are based on findings from a relatively low number of taxonomic groups, samples from few freshwater ecosystems, and few regions. The lack of a wider knowledge hinders predictions of the responses of much of freshwater biodiversity to climate change and other major anthropogenic stressors. Due to the lack of detailed distributional information for most freshwater taxonomic groups and the absence of distribution-climate models, future studies should aim at furthering our knowledge about these aspects of the ecology of freshwater organisms. Such information is not only important with regard to the basic ecological issue of predicting the responses of freshwater species to climate variables, but also when assessing the applied issue of the capacity of protected areas to accommodate future changes in the distributions of freshwater species. This is a huge challenge, because most current protected areas have not been delineated based on the requirements of freshwater organisms. Thus, the requirements of freshwater organisms should be taken into account in the future delineation of protected areas and in the estimation of the degree to which protected areas accommodate freshwater biodiversity in the changing climate and associated environmental changes.

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