Center for Species Survival: Freshwater
Shedd Aquarium has been recognized by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC) as a Center for Species Survival — one of just 11 Centers on the planet. Shedd is using applied conservation science to inform assessments and safeguard freshwater species and environments in key biodiversity hotspots.
A Global Partnership
Shedd Aquarium has teamed up with the Species Survival Commission of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN SSC) to become the first designated Center for Species Survival with a focus only on freshwater. Shedd was chosen as a host, in part, because of the ability to blend our diverse conservation portfolio with the extraordinary ability to reach people authentically and effectively to understand, appreciate and act on behalf of freshwater ecosystems.
Centers for Species Survival are partnerships between leading conservation institutions and the IUCN SSC — a Commission that is made up of more than 8,300 conservationists worldwide. This designation will empower Shedd to advance its ongoing freshwater conservation efforts to:
Assess aquatic species and environments in biodiversity hotspots
Plan science-driven conservation
Act for aquatic species in need
“The Freshwater Center for Species Survival comes at a perfect time, as we are shifting our focus from assessment, towards planning and implementing conservation actions. I foresee it as becoming a beacon for global freshwater biodiversity conservation”Topiltzin Contreras, Co-chair of the IUCN SSC Freshwater Conservation Committee
A Focus on Freshwater
Despite covering only about 0.8 percent of the Earth’s surface, freshwater habitats support a disproportionately large amount of unique aquatic life – more than 10 percent of all known animals and about 50 percent of all fish species on the planet. More broadly, research indicates that freshwater ecosystems provide several critical services for our planet – supporting food production, human health, water purification, climate regulation and more.
These same vital freshwater systems are the most imperiled ecosystems on the planet and face a growing list of challenges like pollution, habitat loss, overexploitation, fragmentation (e.g., dams and culverts) and the climate crisis. Shedd Aquarium’s Center for Species Survival: Freshwater will elevate awareness of threats to freshwater habitats across the globe to help combat the current trend of freshwater biodiversity loss, which will benefit animals, plants and humans alike.
“Now, more than ever, we cannot fall behind the curve on how we look at addressing threats to freshwater, said Ian Harrison, co-chair of the IUCN SSC Freshwater Conservation Committee. “This requires collaboration and resources, focused where we know we can have the best effect. The addition of Shedd Aquarium to IUCN SSC’s global network of partners will be extremely important in addressing these most urgent needs and will help us conserve ecologically and culturally iconic species.”
Shedd’s collaborative work will focus on critical watersheds in Central America, where aquatic wildlife populations are at risk of extinction. Leveraging the aquarium’s existing portfolio of freshwater research, one attention area for the Shedd will be on freshwater mussels — animals that face the highest level of threat on the planet. Shedd will replicate its ongoing freshwater mussels research, currently conducted throughout the Midwest, and scale it across key areas of Central America — including El Salvador, Costa Rica and Guatemala.
Shedd’s work will also be expanded to include complementary surveying of freshwater fishes via a partnership with Chicago’s Field Museum.
“This designation strengthens Shedd Aquarium’s ability to build partnerships, conduct field research and apply our conservation science in ways that make meaningful and sustainable change for freshwater habitats and species globally. Shedd is thrilled at the opportunity to broaden freshwater conservation beyond the Great Lakes and maximize our global impact.”Chuck Knapp, Ph.D., vice president of conservation research at Shedd Aquarium and co-chair of the IUCN SSC Iguana Specialist Group
Meet the Experts
Chuck Knapp, Ph.D.
Vice president of conservation research at Shedd Aquarium and co-chair of the IUCN SSC Iguana Specialist Group
Chuck Knapp oversees Shedd's conservation research programs with the goal of saving wild animals and imperiled ecosystems. This includes overseeing the scope and ambitions of Shedd’s Center for Species Survival: Freshwater and managing important partner relationships both in-country and back home in Chicago. Knapp’s programs support Shedd’s mission to protect the aquatic animal world and inspire the public to become environmental stewards who protect aquatic life for future generations.
Kentaro Inoue, Ph.D.
Research biologist at Shedd Aquarium
Kentaro Inoue studies freshwater mussels, animals that are among the most imperiled group of organisms in the world. He works throughout the Midwest to understand how human activities and environmental change affect current mussel diversity. Now, via the work of this Center, Inoue is applying this same research methods to inform assessments and conservation strategies for endemic freshwater mussels across Central America.
Conservation Through Collaboration
Shedd recognizes that protecting our planet must be done through partnership and collaboration.
Using tools produced by IUCN, Shedd will work alongside local collaborators to assess potential extinction threats, identify key biodiversity areas and train local partners to build capacity for this work so that it can be sustained within the region.
Our work with in-country stakeholders including conservation organizations, universities, government agencies, and students is intentional to ensure that these conservation endeavors are done equitably and built to last.
Shedd is also proud to work in partnership with iconic Chicago conservation and science institutions like the Field Museum and The Morton Arboretum to maximize our impact and make key connections between aquatic and terrestrial conservation.
“The creation of the Center for Species Survival: Freshwater at Shedd Aquarium is a welcome addition to efforts to end the freshwater species extinction crisis. We look forward to the contribution of their science-based work in red listing, surveys, and action planning. This work will support a wide range of Indigenous peoples, local communities, conservation groups and governments working in global priority regions.”Mike Baltzer, Executive Director of Shoal via Re: Wild
The new Center for Species Survival: Freshwater is being funded by the Walder Foundation, a private family foundation based in Skokie, Illinois, focused in part on funding work in environmental sustainability.