Freshwater species and habitats are, on average around the world, more imperiled than their terrestrial counterparts. Yet, large-scale conservation planning efforts have rarely targeted freshwater biodiversity. This inattention is due in part to the fact that, compared to better-studied terrestrial taxa, there has been a severe lack of comprehensive, synthesized data on the distributions of freshwater species. Existing worldwide species-level data have covered only the largest river basins or select hotspots, rather than all inland waters. Additionally, these data syntheses have made little attempt to describe biogeographic patterns.
Lower Oder Valley National Park, Brandenburg, Germany. (c) WWF-Canon / Chris MartinFreshwater Ecoregions of the World (FEOW) is a collaborative project providing the first global biogeographic regionalization of the Earth's freshwater biodiversity, and synthesizing biodiversity and threat data for the resulting ecoregions. We define a freshwater ecoregion as a large area encompassing one or more freshwater systems that contains a distinct assemblage of natural freshwater communities and species. The freshwater species, dynamics, and environmental conditions within a given ecoregion are more similar to each other than to those of surrounding ecoregions and together form a conservation unit.
The freshwater ecoregion map serves as a complement to the global terrestrial and marine ecoregion maps and differs from them in that freshwater species (primarily fish) and freshwater processes drove the map delineation. A detailed description of the delineation methodology is available in Abell et al. (2008).