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Conservation Priorities for Freshwater Biodiversity in the Upper Mississippi River Basin > Executive Summary

The extensive network of streams, mainstem river and its floodplains, thousands of lakes, and the uplands that make up the Upper Mississippi River Basin (UMRB) provide habitat for a significant portion of the Earth's biological diversity. A considerable fraction of the world's population also depends on this area—the nation's heartland—for food, transportation and municipal water supply. Human land use in the basin has greatly altered the terrestrial and riverine ecosystems of the UMRB. This study evaluates the components and patterns of the freshwater biodiversity of the basin, and identifies the most significant places to focus conservation opportunities to maintain it.

Many aspects and portions of the UMRB are well studied. Yet, we have lacked the information to guide focused and comprehensive conservation action to sustain freshwater biodiversity throughout the whole UMRB. To address this need, NatureServe and The Nature Conservancy, with the financial support of the McKnight Foundation and Region 5 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have assembled data on the variety, distribution and condition of freshwater species and ecosystems of the basin.

This report provides detailed information on three major aquatic taxonomic groups-fishes, mussels, and crayfishes. We have also classified all of the freshwater components of the basin as ecological system types based on their physical attributes and surrounding landscapes, and assessed their ecological integrity.

Working with regional experts, we have identified the set of areas of biodiversity significance that together represent the full array of places that harbor the best remaining examples of the rare and imperiled aquatic species and the ecological systems that contain them, as well as those ecological systems that contain the best examples of common and representative species and communities.

The report also includes a set of 50 priority areas in the basin for both terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity. We have included a detailed description of each priority area, which includes a map and a list of the freshwater and terrestrial conservation targets found in each area.

We have a high level of confidence that, if protected and/or restored, both sets of priorities (freshwater alone or freshwater combined with terrestrial) will ensure the viability of the common species and a majority of the imperiled aquatic species in the basin. Given that the basin is home to one-quarter of the species of freshwater fishes in the United States and 20% of the mussel species found in the United States and Canada, successful conservation in the UMRB is critical to the conservation of a significant component of global freshwater biodiversity.


Seeing the Forest and the Trees: Ecological Classification for Conservation

  Download PDF file of report (5.18M)

  Download PDF file of appendices (13.4M)

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