Endemic freshwater invertebrates from southern France: diversity, distribution and conservation implications.
Freshwaters ecosystems continue to face pressures from pollution, flow regime alterations, habitat destruction and exotic species invasions despite their unique biodiversity. In Europe, National Parks and Special Areas of Conservation aim to provide protection of 'aggregate' biodiversity, yet inspection of priority species lists for these sites often reveals a focus towards terrestrial species. In regions such as the Alps and the Pyrénées, this is a particularly serious problem because climate change and other anthropogenic pressures (e.g. hydropower, tourism) are causing widespread hydrological modification which is likely to drive changes in aquatic species abundance, diversity and distribution. Improved understanding of the diversity of rare plants and animals is necessary so efforts can be cost-effectively targeted to conserve the maximum number of species, whilst a clearer picture of these species' distributions is a precursor to targeting conservation efforts. This paper reports results of a study into the diversity and distribution of 17 endemic mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies from 598 rivers sites across southern France. Endemic macroinvertebrates were found only at sites in the Pyrénées mountain range with richness peaking at 1500-1800 m above sea level. Nine of these 17 species were recorded from <20 sites and two (Protonemura angelieri, Rhithrogena kimminsi) were found at only 10 sites. Despite both the rarity of these species and threats to their existence, none of them have any current conservation status. New conservation policies for freshwater ecosystems in the French Pyrénées need to be developed as a priority due to the rarity of many aquatic species in this area, growing threats to their existence (habitat modification, hydrological change), and to recognise their importance in food webs that may include other rare species of conservation value.