Fish and macroinvertebrate assemblages reveal extensive degradation of the world's rivers

Maria João Feio, Robert M. Hughes, Sónia R.Q. Serra, Susan J. Nichols, Ben J. Kefford, Mark Lintermans, Wayne Robinson, Oghenekaro N. Odume, Marcos Callisto, Diego R. Macedo, Jon S. Harding, Adam G. Yates, Wendy Monk, Keigo Nakamura, Terutaka Mori, Masanao Sueyoshi, Norman Mercado-Silva, Kai Chen, Min Jeong Baek, Yeon Jae BaeRam Devi Tachamo-Shah, Deep Narayan Shah, Ian Campbell, Nabor Moya, Francis O. Arimoro, Unique N. Keke, Renato T. Martins, Carlos B.M. Alves, Paulo S. Pompeu, Subodh Sharma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)
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Rivers suffer from multiple stressors acting simultaneously on their biota, but the consequences are poorly quantified at the global scale. We evaluated the biological condition of rivers globally, including the largest proportion of countries from the Global South published to date. We gathered macroinvertebrate- and fish-based assessments from 72,275 and 37,676 sites, respectively, from 64 study regions across six continents and 45 nations. Because assessments were based on differing methods, different systems were consolidated into a 3-class system: Good, Impaired, or Severely Impaired, following common guidelines. The proportion of sites in each class by study area was calculated and each region was assigned a Köppen-Geiger climate type, Human Footprint score (addressing landscape alterations), Human Development Index (HDI) score (addressing social welfare), % rivers with good ambient water quality, % protected freshwater key biodiversity areas; and % of forest area net change rate. We found that 50% of macroinvertebrate sites and 42% of fish sites were in Good condition, whereas 21% and 29% were Severely Impaired, respectively. The poorest biological conditions occurred in Arid and Equatorial climates and the best conditions occurred in Snow climates. Severely Impaired conditions were associated (Pearson correlation coefficient) with higher HDI scores, poorer physico-chemical water quality, and lower proportions of protected freshwater areas. Good biological conditions were associated with good water quality and increased forested areas. It is essential to implement statutory bioassessment programs in Asian, African, and South American countries, and continue them in Oceania, Europe, and North America. There is a need to invest in assessments based on fish, as there is less information globally and fish were strong indicators of degradation. Our study highlights a need to increase the extent and number of protected river catchments, preserve and restore natural forested areas in the catchments, treat wastewater discharges, and improve river connectivity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)355-374
Number of pages20
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 22 Sept 2022


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