2018 to 2020
Program type
Scientific cooperation
Southeastern Asia

People involved

Freshwater biotas of the insular biodiversity hotspots of Southeast Asia: diversity, biological states and uses (FRESHBIO)


The exponential growth of human impact on ecosystems has called attention on the role of biodiversity in maintaining ecosystem services (e.g. food security, epidemiological control) on which a growing human population depends. Species richness enhances ecosystems’ productivity and stability and the impact of biodiversity loss on ecosystem services is readily observed in a large array of ecosystems. However, biodiversity tends to aggregate in restricted areas, some of which are currently facing massive habitat loss and as such, have been identified as biodiversity hotspots. Insular ecosystems are more sensitive to perturbations due to their fragmentation, a trend exemplified by the status of the three insular hotspots in Southeast Asia (SEA) among the most endangered to date.

Aquatic ecosystems integrate a large spectrum of anthropogenic perturbations through regional watershed dynamics. Considering the exceptional rates of land conversion that accompanied human population growth and infrastructure development in SEA, perturbations of ecosystems and related services is already observed. This trend is amplified by global climate changes (GCC) modifying hydrological dynamics through the intensification of drought events that imperil water resources, forest cover and associated biodiversity15,16.

Scientific gaps in the conservation of SEA insular biodiversity hotspots:
The confusion that prevails on animals and plants taxonomy is hampering conservation effort. International agreements on biodiversity conservation are based on fixed conception of species, a paradigm plagued by uncertainties due to the state of confusion that reign over the classification of living beings. While there is a consensus that species represent distinct evolutionary lineages, the way to recognize them is still debated. Accurate checklists are scarcely available and SEA aquatic biotas are no exception as illustrated by recent DNA-based inventories and discovery of high levels of cryptic diversity. This gap explains the scarcity of reliable occurrence data, beyond type localities, for many freshwater organisms and curbs ecology and GCC research. Land conversion and GCC already altered the living conditions of human populations, particularly of those whose livelihoods depend on wildlife. The state of freshwater biotas in insular SEA points to priorities: (1) DNA-based methods of species inventory are required to speed up the inventory of biodiversity, (2) accurate biodiversity mapping are urgently needed to guide conservation strategies, (3) capacity building on wildlife forensics is needed to promote new and sustainable practices for species identification, (4) adaption and resilience of human populations to biodiversity loss should be addressed.

Considering the above statements, FRESHBIO aims at: (1) supporting DNA barcoding campaigns to build-up reference libraries for automated species identification and its application in environmental DNA barcoding (eDNA Barcoding) for biodiversity monitoring; (2) exploring historical trends in population demography and species aggregation in ecological communities through coalescent-based phylogeography and community phylogenetics to address the state of aquatic biotas (expansion vs. contraction); (3) estimating the impact of land conversion on diversity patterns through a geographic information system (GIS) approach; (4) exploring the dynamics of adaptation and resilience of human populations to environmental changes.

Project coordinator: Nicolas Hubert, IRD

    • Pr. Philippe Keith, MNHN
    • Dr. Thomas von RINTELEN, Museum für Naturkunde (MfN), Leibniz Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity Science
    • Dr. Hendrik FREITAG, Associate Professor (RCW) / Department Research Coordinator, Biology Department, School of Science & Engineering, Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU)
    • Dr. Edmond DOUNIAS, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD), Biocultural Interactions research team
    • Dr. Daisy WOWOR, Research Centre for Biology, Zoology Division (RCB), Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI)