Beneath the surface: ecology and management of groundwater-dependent ecosystems

By Mark Kennard

Groundwater is vital for many ecosystems, playing a critical role in rates of primary production and decomposition, fluxes of nutrients and energy, as well as sustaining surface and subsurface biodiversity. Groundwater-dependent ecosystems (GDE’s) occur widely in Australia, including in regions where human activities have the potential to impact GDE diversity and hydroecological processes.

Large groundwater-fed spring at Doongmabulla in the Moses complex, Barcaldine supergroup, Queensland (photo: Roderick Fensham).

A major potential threat is groundwater abstraction associated with widespread coal and petroleum mining activity, which may reduce groundwater quantity and quality, and alter the dynamics of groundwater-surface water exchange. The implications of these threats for GDE structure and function are poorly understood, and there is a pressing need for an integrative understanding of hydroecological processes and responses to inform the regulation and management of activities that impact groundwater environments.

A special symposium at the forthcoming Ecological Society of Australia conference in Fremantle will bring together an interdisciplinary group of speakers to present a series of case studies on GDE’s from around Australia. These presentations will showcase current research and advances in knowledge on the diversity, processes and prospects for a range of GDE types (including riparian zones, streams, spring wetlands, floodplains, hyporheic zones and subterranean ecosystems) that may be threatened by groundwater abstraction. Together with other relevant contributions, this symposium will appeal to those interested in the hydroecology, biodiversity and functioning of GDE’s.

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