Freshwater crabs and the biodiversity crisis: Importance, threats, status, and conservation challenges
Freshwater ecosystems in the tropics host a diverse endemic fauna including freshwater crabs, but the rapid loss and deterioration of habitat means that many species are now under imminent threat. Studies on freshwater fish and amphibians suggest a third to half of the species in some tropical freshwaters is either extinct or endangered, but the status of the freshwater crabs is not known. Freshwater crabs, with 1280 species, represent one-fifth of all the World's brachyurans. We therefore undertook a comprehensive IUCN Red List assessment of the freshwater crabs, which was the first time that such a study had been attempted on a global scale for any group of freshwater invertebrates. The conservation status of all known species from the Americas, Africa, Europe, Asia, and Australasia revealed unexpectedly high threat levels. Here we show that about one-sixth of all freshwater crab species have an elevated risk of extinction, only one-third are not at-risk, and although none are actually extinct, almost half are too poorly known to assess. Out of 122 countries that have populations of freshwater crabs, 43 have species in need of protection. The majority of threatened species are restricted-range semi-terrestrial endemics living in habitats subjected to deforestation, alteration of drainage patterns, and pollution. This is illustrated with a case study of one such species found in Singapore. This underlines the need to prioritize and develop conservation measures before species decline to levels from which they cannot recover. The proportion of freshwater crabs threatened with extinction is equal to that of reef-building corals, and exceeds that of all other groups that have been assessed except for amphibians. These results represent a baseline that can be used to design strategies to save the World's threatened freshwater crab species. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.