Lakes, unlike rivers, are mainly storage bodies. They are dynamic ecosystems and in addition to their storage function, are the source of food and recreation for humans, support a large range of biodiversity and may provide the foundation for people's livelihoods. Unfortunately, lakes are also among the most vulnerable and fragile aquatic ecosystems as they are a sink for a wide range of dissolved and particulate substances. Lakes, therefore, serve not only as sensitive indicator systems but recorders of effects of human and natural disturbances inside, and sometimes outside, their drainage basins. In addition, effects of climate change can interact with other direct human (e.g., pollution, water diversion) impacts with both positive and negative consequences for specific lake systems.
Historically, saline lakes have unfortunately been perceived as being unimportant, of less utility, and less abundant than fresh waters. They are, however, distributed worldwide in semi-arid or arid climatic zones and are often close to large population centers. On a worldwide basis they have accounted for only slightly less water volume (0.008%) than their freshwater counterparts (0.009%) (Figure 1). Indeed, in spite of their salinity, most of these lakes have important values and uses (except as drinking water) for both society and the environment in semi-arid and arid regions of the world. As with freshwater lakes, more attention needs to be directed to the protection, management, and conservation of the world's saline lakes.
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