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A freshwater biodiversity hotspot under pressure – assessing threats and identifying conservation needs for ancient Lake Ohrid

Author(s): G. Kostoski | C. Albrecht | S. Trajanovski | T. Wilke

Journal: Biogeosciences Discussions
ISSN 1810-6277

Volume: 7;
Issue: 4;
Start page: 5347;
Date: 2010;
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Freshwater habitats and species living in freshwater are generally more prone to extinction than terrestrial or marine ones. Immediate conservation measures for world-wide freshwater resources are thus of eminent importance. This is particularly true for so called ancient lakes. While these lakes are famous for being evolutionary theatres, often displaying an extraordinarily high degree of biodiversity and endemism, in many cases these biota are also experiencing extreme anthropogenic impact. Lake Ohrid, the European biodiversity hotspot, is a prime example for a lake with a magnitude of narrow range endemic taxa that are under increasing anthropogenic pressure. Unfortunately, evidence for a "creeping biodiversity crisis" has accumulated over the last decades, and major socio-political changes have gone along with human-mediated environmental changes. Based on field surveys, monitoring data, published records, and expert interviews, we aimed to (1) assess threats to Lake Ohrids' (endemic) biodiversity, (2) summarize existing conservation activities and strategies, and (3) outline future conservation needs for Lake Ohrid. We compiled threats to both specific taxa (and in cases to particular species) as well as to the lake ecosystems itself. Major conservation concerns identified for Lake Ohrid are: (1) watershed impacts, (2) agriculture and forestry, (3) tourism and population growth, (4) non-indigenous species, (5) habitat alteration or loss, (6) unsustainable exploitation of fisheries, and (7) global climate change. Of the 11 IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) threat classes scored, seven have moderate and three severe impacts. These latter threat classes are energy production and mining, biological resource use, and pollution. We review and discuss institutional responsibilities, environmental monitoring and ecosystem management, existing parks and reserves, biodiversity and species measures, international conservation activities, and ongoing research on conservation and raising of public awareness. Following this summary, we evaluate the status quo and future of Lake Ohrid and its biota. Given the number of identified threats, it is clear that only concerted international action can stop or at least slow down further degradation of Lake Ohrid and the creeping biodiversity crisis already evident. A comprehensive conservation strategy should include measures that result in an immediate reduction of pollution, particularly with phosphorous, in order to slow down the ongoing eutrophication process. The existing watershed management should become more effective. Implementation and particularly with a view to the enforcement of national laws should be enhanced. Increased research on the lakes' limnology, biodiversity, and conservation management practices are necessary. The latter research should identify conservation priorities. Public awareness should be enhanced. Facing these parallel needs to protect the unique biodiversity of Lake Ohrid, we suggest urging (a) implementation and enforcement of the General Management Plan that would ensure long-term integrated and sustainable use of the lake and its watershed, (b) scientific studies on ecology, biodiversity and effects of human impact, (c) the establishment of Core Conservation areas (CCA), including underwater reserves, and (d) Coastal Zone Management (CZM) areas that would constitute buffer zones for the CCA around the lake. These activities should, among others, ultimately lead to a trans-boundary major conservation area of the Ohrid-Prespa region that would allow long-term integration of both humans and nature.
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