Freshwater Policy Support


While our research on freshwater is largely fundamental, we also perform research in support of science policy concerning the management of these habitats. For this, we mostly concentrate on the biodiversity of pools and ponds. Here, our work uses not only ostracods as a model group, but also macro-invertebrates and amphibians. Work on these habitats is project driven, which means that we can only do research if we can find external financing.

Pools and ponds are common features in the landscape, but the nature and value of their biodiversity are widely underestimated. Research in England, where ponds are generally more valued, has shown that these small water bodies have more biodiversity than lakes and rivers, in relation to their smaller surface area. This can be explained by the interaction between isolation and connectivity between ponds. Also, 60% of all endangered aquatic animal species (Red Data List) occur in pools and ponds.

During the past 10 years we have investigated pools and ponds in Belgium and Luxemburg. We have found that local factors have a much greater effect on the biodiversity of pools and ponds than regional factors. This means that these small water bodies should be relatively easy to manage. We have also issued recommendations concerning the management of ponds and pools; for example, that new ponds are best created in clusters of 5-10, and that ponds in these clusters should have different shapes and depths in order to maximise the combined biodiversity. Such clusters enhance connectivity, helping to protect some endangered groups such as amphibians.

We are currently participating in a study on the effects of urbanisation (habitation, industry, roads, etc.) on biodiversity in Belgium. We are investigating the specific and genetic diversity of the ostracods. Other research teams, both in our institute and in universities, are using other model groups such as beetles, slugs, plankton, birds, plants, etc. The research is ongoing.


A relatively new initiative in our group is the involvement in the construction and mobilisation of databases on freshwater biodiversity. Some years ago our team organised the global “Freshwater Animal Diversity Assessment” or FADA. More than 150 taxonomists from all around the world were involved and drafted species lists of all animals that are known to occur in freshwater habitats. We found that about 126,000 species in approximately 11,000 genera have thus far been described from freshwater habitats. At first glance, this might look unimpressive, because these 126,000 species are less than 10% of all animals thus far described (approx. 1.4 million animal species). But when one takes into account that freshwater occupies only 0.01% of the total surface of the planet, it becomes clear that freshwater biodiversity is disproportionally high compared to marine and terrestrial biodiversity.

Through European financing, we have been able to launch the initiative Biofresh. This initiative resulted from FADA and aims to provide an internet platform with information on freshwater biodiversity, combining access to data, metadata and other resources. FADA is the taxonomic backbone of this platform.

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