What Is a Freshwater Ecosystem?


The freshwater ecosystem consists of bodies of water that support much of the life found on Earth. However, this water and the animals found in it are threatened by human development. Three types of habitats exist in the freshwater ecosystem: flowing water habitats, freshwater wetlands habitats and still water habitats.


  • Freshwater ecosystems include lakes, ponds, rivers and streams. They consist of drinkable water that has nearly no salt content. Most of the United States' drinking water comes from freshwater ecosystems. The water is also used for industry, sanitation, agriculture and breeding grounds for commercial fish and shellfish. These sources also provide people with transportation options. "Few of us know that U.S. streamlife is exceptional on a global level, even compared with the tropics," NatureServe stated.


  • According to NatureServe, approximately 40 percent of all known fish species come from freshwater. However, many of these fish, as well as other aquatic animals and plants have suffered more than those found in forests and in prairies. Approximately two-thirds of the freshwater mussel species are endangered, nearly one-half of the crayfish species are endangered and about 40 percent of the fish and amphibians are at risk. The locations of these endangered species are all over the world and are not confined to urban areas.


  • The effects of two centuries of water withdrawals, dam construction, land-use alterations, introduction of non-native species and pollution are to blame for the sometimes irreparable damage suffered by freshwater ecosystems. Much of the pollution has been caused by commercial dumping of pollutants into the water system. In 1972, however, that type of use was outlawed in the U.S., which has improved the quality of water and outlook for freshwater ecosystems.


  • Wetlands are vast stretches of freshwater that are about level to the ground and are found in lowland areas near rivers, lakes and streams. They sometimes dry out in the summer, only to become covered with water again in the fall or winter.

    Lakes are large bodies of water that usually include rivers and streams running in and out of them. Many of the fish in the lakes use the rivers and streams for spawning. Ponds are smaller versions of lakes and they don't usually include streams or rivers.

    Rivers and streams channel water from the mountains into lakes and oceans. Multiple lakes are often interconnected with rivers and streams.

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