Global freshwater biodiversity is declining dramatically, and meeting the challenges of this crisis requires bold goals and the mobilisation of substantial resources. While the reasons are varied, investments in both research and conservation of freshwater biodiversity lag far behind those in the terrestrial and marine realms. Inspired by a global consultation, we identify 15 pressing priority needs, grouped into five research areas, in an effort to support informed stewardship of freshwater biodiversity. The proposed agenda aims to advance freshwater biodiversity research globally as a critical step in improving coordinated actions towards its sustainable management and conservation. © 2021 The Authors. Ecology Letters published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.