The Freshwater Biome
The freshwater biome is one of our most precious ecosystems. It provides us our drinking water and a resource for agriculture, sanitation, industry and food. Forty percent of all known fish species make their home in freshwater. The freshwater biome includes ponds and lakes, streams and rivers, wetlands, reservoirs, and groundwater.
Because freshwater ecosystems are found throughout the world, their climates are highly variable. However, they are quite vulnerable to climate change in general. When water runoff patterns change, or the water temperature increases, the habitat is damaged.
Animal Life in the Freshwater Biome
The freshwater ecosystem is home to a diverse number of lifeforms, including vertebrates like fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals; invertebrates like worms, mollusks and protozoa; algae; plants; and fungi. The base of the biome food chain is composed of zooplankton and phytoplankton.
Many species native to the freshwater biome are in real danger. These include freshwater mussels (two-thirds of the species are endangered and a tenth are extinct), crayfish (half of all crayfish species are endangered), stoneflies (over forty percent are at risk), freshwater fish and amphibians (forty percent of these species are at risk), dragonflies and damselflies (eighteen percent of these species are at risk), and freshwater snails (fifty percent are endangered or extinct).
Plant Life in the Freshwater Biome
Thousands of different plant species live in the freshwater biome. They may live along the edge, like cattails; at the bottom of lakes and ponds; in areas that are only temporarily flooded; in hill and mountain springs; in the flowing water of rivers and streams; or rooted in waterlogged soil. Most aquatic plants are widely distributed across the globe; this is often due to human activity, such as the transportation of seeds or fruit. However, animals also aid in the distribution. Aquatic plants adapt to the water zones mostly by changing their leaf structure. The three basic leaf patterns of aquatic plants are submersed leaves, which are thin, narrow, and highly flexible; floating leaves, which are flexible but firm and leathery to withstand currents; and aerial leaves, which are similar to those of nearby terrestrial plants.
An Ecosystem in Danger
Freshwater rivers and streams are among the most endangered ecosystems on the planet. Rates of endangered and extinct freshwater species are a cause for concern. According to a report by The Nature Conservancy, since European settlers first landed on North America, twenty-one out of the 822 fish species native to America have become extinct. The southeastern United States appears to be the location most at risk. Major threats to the freshwater biome include agricultural and urban runoff, dams and water diversion, the introduction of invasive species, exploitation, climate change, and pollution.
For more information on water and biomes, check out Role of Water in Ecosystems and Biomes