This study aimed to eliminate the information bottleneck for effective biodiversity conservation and livelihood protection in the inland waters of Eastern Africa. In the pursuit of this objective a total of 1,661 taxa of fishes, molluscs, odonates and crabs have been assessed for their threatened status, conservation requirements, preferred habitats, and modes of utilisation. Distribution ranges have been mapped for the majority of taxa. Centres of species richness, threatened status and restricted range have been mapped.

The major threats to biodiversity in inland waters are identified as loss and degradation of habitat, predation and competition from introduced non-native species, and, in some cases, unsustainable use such as through fisheries. Potential impacts from the alteration of water courses and over-abstraction of water, as associated with developments for improved access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hydro-electric power, are highlighted. The dataset provided here can be used to help minimise, or mitigate for, the impacts of these developments.

Regional capacity for biodiversity assessment and conservation planning has been raised through training in the IUCN Red Listing process, field taxonomy, data management in the SIS database, and through expansion of the IUCN/SSC expert network of specialists. A number of national and regional decision makers have been made aware of the study. The complete dataset and GIS maps are widely and freely available throughout the region and beyond providing an important resource for future conservation planning and research throughout the region. A lack of available data can no longer be used as a valid reason for the failure to integrate biodiversity considerations within the development planning process for inland waters throughout Eastern Africa.

Conservation priorities for the region

A number of sites have been identified as regionally important for species richness, species endemism, and threatened species, the main sites being the African Great Lakes, Malawi, Tanganyika and Victoria. The Rufiji, Pangani and Tana River systems were also identified as important centres for freshwater biodiversity. The major threat identified as common to all the taxonomic groups is the continuing loss of habitat through deforestation and agricultural encroachment. It has also been shown that the current network of Protected Areas does not work well to combat these threats to freshwater taxa. Forest Reserves, which often aim to protect forests in the upper river catchments, are identified as potentially important tools in need of increased recognition for their value to the protection of downstream freshwater ecosystems. The main future threats identified also highlight habitat loss as a major issue. Of particular concern is the potential impact of water resource developments, such as the construction of dams for water supply, irrigation and hydro-electric power, which are expected to have a major impact on the associated freshwater biodiversity. The dataset presented here provides a useful resource for designing projects to account for and minimise impacts to the associated freshwater biodiversity upon which so many people depend.

The challenge now is to ensure that the information collated and presented here and in the SIS database is made readily available for policy makers and environmental planners in a format that can easily be employed for integration within the development planning process.

Application of outputs

The outputs from this study can be applied at the national level in the development of National Biodiversity Strategies, and in monitoring progress towards the goals and targets of Conventions, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. At the regional scale, outputs may be employed by organisations such as IUCN to prioritise sites for inclusion in regional research programmes and for identification of internationally important sites of biodiversity. At the river basin scale, the dataset can be employed in the determination of environmental flows when designing and siting water resource developments. Hopefully the provision of this biodiversity information set will help ensure that there is no longer an “information bottleneck” for conservation planning in inland waters nor for the integration of biodiversity information within the development and environmental planning process.