Protected areas and freshwater conservation: a survey of protected area managers in the Tennessee and Cumberland River Basins, USA.
ABSTRACT As the scientific community has highlighted the plight of freshwater species, there have been increasing calls for protected area (PA) designation and management specific to the conservation of aquatic species and ecosystems. In this study we examined PA management in one relatively well-resourced (high levels of financial and technical resources) part of the world: the Tennessee and Cumberland River Basins, USA. We asked managers their perceptions about the current status of freshwater ecosystems within PAs, the sources of stress that are degrading freshwater ecosystem integrity, the degree to which PAs address these stressors, and the availability of technical, human, and financial resources for management activities that benefit freshwater ecosystems and the species they support. Managers generally perceive that freshwater ecosystems within PAs are under low levels of stress, with less than half reporting any alteration to ecosystem integrity, and very few reporting alterations at medium or high levels. Most PAs have fewer resources dedicated to freshwater conservation and management than to other activities, and some PAs completely lack resources for freshwater management. We recommend a review of every PA's goals and objectives and any needed updates to include the conservation of freshwater ecosystems. We also recommend an analysis to determine the most pressing stressors to aquatic life within each PA, stemming from sources both from within and outside of a PA's boundaries, and that this information be used to guide future management. Finally, we suggest that management resources be prioritized for PAs that include large portions of the catchments of their freshwater systems; that can address the dominant sources of stress within the PA; or that contain representative ecosystems, species assemblages or populations of rare, endemic, and threatened species.