Our People

Robin Abell

Global Director of Durable Freshwater Protection

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Headshot of Robin Abell.

Robin Abell Global Director of Durable Freshwater Protection © TNC

Areas of Expertise

Freshwater conservation science; freshwater protection; biodiversity; strategy development


Robin Abell is TNC’s global director of durable freshwater protection. In that role, Robin leads a team working towards a vision of representative, connected, and biologically important freshwater ecosystems around the world to be durably protected, with measurable and meaningful impacts that both bend the curve of freshwater biodiversity loss and deliver value to local communities and beyond. Before rejoining The Nature Conservancy in 2022, Robin was the Freshwater Lead at Conservation International, where she was responsible for developing and implementing the organization’s freshwater strategy. Prior to that she was with The Nature Conservancy’s Global Water Program, where she led development of Beyond the Source, an analysis of co-benefits that would be produced from protecting the source waters of the world’s largest cities. Before that, she spent 16 years at World Wildlife Fund-United States, where she built a world-renowned freshwater science program.

Robin is an established leader in freshwater conservation science, focusing on what it takes to protect and conserve freshwater ecosystems and their biodiversity. Over the course of her career, she has provided strategic support to programs around the world, from the Amazon to the Mekong. She began her career by leading an assessment of the conservation status of North America’s freshwater ecoregions, which grew into the foundational Freshwater Ecoregions of the World, a biogeographic framework with associated data that remain in use. She collaborates with freshwater experts from all continents and is a frequent speaker at international events. Robin received a Master of Science from the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, and a Bachelor of Arts from Yale University.

Key peer-reviewed papers

  • Flitcroft, R.L., Abell, R., Harrison, I. et al. 2023. Making global targets local for freshwater protection. Nat Sustain. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-023-01193-7
  • Abell R., I.J. Harrison. 2020. A boost for freshwater conservation. Science. 370(6512):38-39. DOI: 10.1126/science.
  • Abell, R., B. Lehner, M. Thieme, and S. Linke. 2016. Looking beyond the fenceline: Assessing protection gaps for the world's rivers. Conservation Letters. doi:10.1111/conl.12312.
  • Abell, R., S. Morgan, and A. Morgan. 2015. Taking High Conservation Value from forests tofreshwaters. Environmental Management 56: 1-10.
  • S. L. Pimm, R. Abell, T. Brooks, J. L. Gittleman, C. N. Jenkins, L. Joppa, P. H. Raven, C. M. Roberts, J. O. Sexton. 2014. A global assessment of biodiversity. Science 344:6187.
  • Abell, R., M. Thieme, et al. 2011. Concordance of freshwater and terrestrial biodiversity. Conservation Letters 4: 127-136.
  • Abell, R., M. Thieme, C. Revenga, M. Bryer, et. al. 2008. Freshwater Ecoregions of the World: A new map of biogeographic units for freshwater biodiversity conservation. BioScience 58:403- 414.
  • Abell, R, J.D. Allan, and B. Lehner. 2007. Unlocking the potential of protected areas for freshwaters. Biological Conservation 134:48-63.
  • Allan, J.D., R.A. Abell, Z. Hogan, C. Revenga, B.W. Taylor, R.L. Welcomme, and K. Winemiller. 2005. Overfishing of inland waters. BioScience 55:1041-1051.
  • Additional peer-reviewed papers

  • Huggins, X., Gleeson, T., Serrano, D., Zipper, S., Jehn, F., Rohde, M.M., Abell, R., Vigerstol, K., and Hartmann, A. 2023. Overlooked risks and opportunities in groundwatersheds of the world’s protected areas. Nat Sustain 6, 855–864. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-023-01086-9
  • Vollmer, D., Abell, R., Bezerra, M. et al. 2023. A watershed moment for healthy watersheds. Nat Sustain. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-022-01027-y
  • Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm, John H. Matthews, Nathan Karres, Robin Abell, James Dalton, Shi-Teng Kang, Junguo Liu, Romain Maendly, Nathanial Matthews, Robert McDonald, Raúl Muñoz-Castillo, Boris F. Ochoa-Tocachi, Neera Pradhan, Diego Rodriguez, Kari Vigerstøl, Bregje van Wesenbeeck, 2022. Emerging themes and future directions in watershed resilience research, Water Security, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasec.2022.100132.
  • Harper M., H.S. Mejbel, D. Longert, R. Abell, T.D. Beard, J.R. Bennett, S.M. Carlson, W. Darwall, A.Dell, S. Domisch, D. Dudgeon, J. Freyhof, I. Harrison, K.A. Hughes, S.C. Jahnig, J.M. Jeschke, R. Lansdown, M. Lintermans, A.J. Lynch, H.M.R. Meredith, S. Molur, J.D. Olden, S.J. Ormerod, H. Patricio, A.J. Reid, A. Schmidt-Kloiber, M. Thieme, D. Tickner, E. Turak, L.F. Weyl, Olaf and S.J. Cooke. 2021. Twenty-five essential research questions to inform the protection and restoration of freshwater biodiversity. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 10.1002/aqc.3634.
  • D. Tickner, J. Opperman, R. Abell, M. Acreman, A. Arthington, S. Bunn, S. J. Cooke, J. Dalton, W. Darwall, G. Edwards, I. Harrison, Kathy Hughes, T. Jones, D. Leclère, Abigail J. Lynch, Philip Leonard, M. McClain, D. Muruven, J. D. Olden, S. Ormerod, J. A. Robinson, R. Tharme, Michele Thieme, Klement Tockner, M. Wright, L. Young. 2020. Bending the curve of freshwater biodiversity loss: An emergency recovery plan. BioScience 70(4):330–342. https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biaa002.
  • Abell, R., K. Vigerstol, J. Higgins, S. Kang, N. Karres, B. Lehner, A. Sridhar, and E. Chapin. 2019. Freshwater biodiversity conservation through source water protection: Quantifying the potential and addressing the challenges. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 29(7):1022–1038.
  • Harrison, I., R. Abell, W. Darwall, M.L. Thieme, D. Tickner, and I. Timboe. 2018. The freshwater biodiversity crisis. Science 362(6421):1369.
  • Turak E., I. Harrison, D. Dudgeon, R. Abell, A. Bush, W. Darwall, C.M. Finlayson, S. Ferrier, J. Freyhof, and V. Hermoso. 2017. Essential Biodiversity Variables for measuring change in global freshwater biodiversity. Biological Conservation 213:272–279.
  • Hermoso, V., R. Abell, S. Linke, and P. Boon. 2016. The role of protected areas for freshwater biodiversity conservation: Challenges and opportunities in a rapidly changing world. Aquatic Conservation-Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 26: 3–11.
  • Thieme, M.L., N. Sindorf, J. Higgins, R. Abell, J.A. Takats, R. Naidoo, and A. Barnett. 2016. Freshwater conservation potential of protected areas in the Tennessee and Cumberland River Basins, USA. Aquatic Conservation-Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 26: 60–77.
  • Thieme, M.L., B. Lehner, R. Abell, and J. Matthews. 2010. Exposure of Africa's freshwater biodiversity to a changing climate. Conservation Letters 3: 324-331.
  • Herbert, M. E., P.B. McIntyre, P.J. Doran, J.D. Allan, and R. Abell. 2010. Terrestrial Reserve Networks Do Not Adequately Represent Aquatic Ecosystems. Conservation Biology 24: 1002-1011.
  • Nel, J. L., D.J. Roux, R. Abell, P.J. Ashton, J.V., M. Thieme, and J.H. Viers. 2009. Progress and challenges in freshwater conservation planning. Aquatic Conservation-Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 19: 474-485.
  • Pittock, J., L.J. Hansen, and R. Abell. 2008. Running dry: Freshwater biodiversity, protected areas and climate change. Biodiversity (Ottawa) 9: 30-38.
  • Thieme, M., B. Lehner, R. Abell, S. Hamilton, J. Kellendorfer, J.C. Riveros, and P. Powell. 2007. Freshwater conservation planning in a data-poor area: An example from a remote Amazonian basin (Madre de Dios River, Peru and Bolivia). Biological Conservation 135:500-517.
  • Revenga, C., I. Campbell, R. Abell, P. de Villiers, and M. Bryer. 2005. Prospects for monitoring freshwater ecosystems towards the 2010 targets. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences 360: 397-413.
  • Gilman R.T., Abell R.A., and C.E. Williams. 2004. How can conservation biology inform the practice of Integrated River Basin Management? Journal of River Basin Management 2:135-148.
  • Abell, R. 2002. Conservation biology for the biodiversity crisis: A freshwater follow-up. Conservation Biology 16:1:3.
  • Abell, R. and J.D. Allan. 2002. Riparian shade and stream temperatures in an agricultural catchment, Michigan, USA. Verh. Internat. Verein. Limnol. 28:232-237.
  • Books

  • Thieme, M.L., Abell, R., Stiassny, M.L.J., Skelton, P., Lehner, B., Teugels, G.G., Dinerstein, E., Kamdem-Toham, A., Burgess, N., and Olson, D. 2005. Freshwater Ecoregions of Africa and Madagascar: A Conservation Assessment. Island Press, Washington, DC.
  • Abell, R., D. Olson, E. Dinerstein, S. Walters, P. Hurley, W. Wettengel, C. Loucks, and P. Hedao. 2000. A Conservation Assessment of Freshwater Ecoregions of North America. Island Press. Washington, DC.
  • Book Chapters

  • N. Ofosu-Amaah, R. Abell, J. Fabre, P. Fleming, M. Matosich, J. Morrison, and T. Varghese. 2021. Nature-based solutions and corporate water stewardship. Pages 337-360 in in Cassin, J., J.H. Matthews, and E.L. Gunn (Eds.): Nature-Based Solutions and Water Security: An Action Agenda for the 21st Century. Elsevier, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
  • Vigerstol, V., R. Abell, K. Brauman, W. Buytaert, and A. Vogl. 2021. Addressing water security through nature-based solutions. Pages 37-62 in Cassin, J., J.H. Matthews, and E.L. Gunn (Eds.): Nature-Based Solutions and Water Security: An Action Agenda for the 21st Century. Elsevier, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
  • Abell, R., M. Thieme, and B. Lehner. 2011. Indicators for Assessing Threats to Freshwater Biodiversity from Humans and Human-Shaped Landscapes. Pages 103-124 in R.P. Cincotta and L.J. Gorenflo (Eds.): Human Population: Its Influences on Biological Diversity. Ecological Studies 214. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.
  • Abell, R., and Bryer, M. 2009. Assessing fresh waters in developing countries. In: Boon, P.J., and Pringle, C.M. (Eds.). Assessing the Conservation Value of Fresh Waters. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
  • Abell, R., S. Blanch, C. Revenga, and M. Thieme. 2009. Conservation of aquatic ecosystems. In: Likens, G.E. (Ed.). Encyclopedia of Inland Waters. Elsevier, Oxford, UK.

  • Abell, R., N. Asquith, G. Boccaletti, L. Bremer, E. Chapin, A. Erickson-Quiroz, J. Higgins, J. Johnson, S. Kang, N. Karres, B. Lehner, R. McDonald, J. Raepple, D. Shemie, E. Simmons, A. Sridhar, K.Vigerstøl, A. Vogl, S. Wood. 2017. Beyond the source: The environmental, economic, and community benefits of source water protection. The Nature Conservancy, Arlington, VA.
  • Kroll, S. and R. Abell. 2016. Points of Departure: Baseline conditions in the subwatershed clusters of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative. The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, USA.
  • Abell, R., M. Thieme, and B. Lehner. 2004. Ecoregion conservation for freshwater systems, with a focus on large rivers. Pages 1-14 in R. Welcomme and T. Petr, editors. Proceedings of the Second International Symposium on the Management of Large Rivers for Fisheries. Volume II. FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, Thailand. RAP Publication 2004/17.
  • Arthington A.H., K. Lorenzen, B.J. Pusey, R. Abell, A.S. Halls, K.O. Winemiller, D.A. Arrington, and E. Baran. 2004. River fisheries: Ecological basis for management and conservation. Pages 21- 60 R. Welcomme and T. Petr, editors. Proceedings of the Second International Symposium on the Management of Large Rivers for Fisheries. Volume I. FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, Thailand. RAP Publication 2004/17.
  • Abell, R., M. Thieme, E. Dinerstein, and D. Olson. 2002. A Sourcebook for Conducting Biological Assessments and Developing Biodiversity Visions for Ecoregion Conservation. Volume II: Freshwater Ecoregions. World Wildlife Fund, Washington, DC.
  • Olson, D.M., B. Chernoff, G. Burgess, I. Davidson, P. Canevari, E. Dinerstein, G. Castro, V. Morisset, R. Abell, and E. Toledo (editors). 1997. Freshwater Biodiversity of Latin America and the Caribbean: A Conservation Assessment. Proceedings of a workshop. Biodiversity Support Program, Washington, DC.
  • Olson, D.M., E. Dinerstein, P. Hedao, E. Wikramanayake, C. Loucks, E. Underwood, I. Itoua, T. Ricketts, S. Walters, P., Hurley, W. Wettengel, R. Abell, J. Adams and R. Werner. 1997. The Global 200 Ecoregions. Map. Conservation Science Program, World Wildlife Fund. Washington, DC.
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