What is groundwater and what does this mean to fauna? - An opinion

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Colleges, School and Institutes


Many subsurface waters are considered groundwater but are influenced in shallow depths by hyporheic, parafluvial and/or soil interception water to such a degree that groundwater fauna (stygofauna) communities may be significantly altered. Recharge, even if spatially and temporally distinct, delivers input of dissolved oxygen, organic matter (OM), and nutrients that caters sustainably for ubiquists such as stygophiles and hyporheic fauna, but renders the life of uncompetitive stygobites difficult or impossible. The impact of recharge at shallow groundwater thus needs to be taken into account when determining groundwater fauna reference communities and when evaluating monitoring studies. One of the main characteristics of groundwater is low OM concentration. In contrast, high OM concentrations are typical of hyporheic or parafluvial waters, which are enriched by OM from the river, the riparian soils and from interflow, and which contribute significantly to river OM balance. Consequently, for ecological studies on subsurface waters, both the origin of the water and OM, and the intensity of surface water interactions should be considered. Here, we discuss how groundwater spatial and temporal heterogeneity translates into faunal distribution patterns. In terms of the origin of water and OM, and from an ecological point of view, we need to distinguish between (i) shallow groundwater characterized by infiltrating precipitation and soil recharge, (ii) shallow groundwater interacting with surface water bodies such as continuously flowing and ephemeral streams and rivers, and (iii) "old" groundwater which has no recent connections to the surface and is thus largely secluded from input of nutrients and carbon. Water in the first two groups is characterized by high amounts of OM of varying quality, while water in the third group is characterized by low amounts of low quality OM. Consequently, stygophiles dominate in groups 1 and 2, with hyporheic fauna taking up a considerable proportion in group 2, while stygobites only dominate in group 3. Thus, for studies aiming to assess impacts on groundwater, only sampling sites of the third group should be used for reference sites as these are the most likely sites to have little surface impact and a stygofauna representative of the deeper aquifer. (C) 2011 Elsevier GmbH. All rights reserved.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-6
Number of pages6
JournalLimnologica - Ecology and Management of Inland Waters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2012


  • Groundwater/surface water-interactions, Stygofauna, Groundwater fauna, Groundwater ecosystems, Reference conditions