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Earthquakes trigger the loss of groundwater biodiversity

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Abstract

Earthquakes are among the most destructive natural events. The 6 April 2009, 6.3-Mw earthquake in L'Aquila (Italy) markedly altered the karstic Gran Sasso Aquifer (GSA) hydrogeology and geochemistry. The GSA groundwater invertebrate community is mainly comprised of small-bodied, colourless, blind microcrustaceans. We compared abiotic and biotic data from two pre-earthquake and one post-earthquake complete but non-contiguous hydrological years to investigate the effects of the 2009 earthquake on the dominant copepod component of the obligate groundwater fauna. Our results suggest that the massive earthquake-induced aquifer strain biotriggered a flushing of groundwater fauna, with a dramatic decrease in subterranean species abundance. Population turnover rates appeared to have crashed, no longer replenishing the long-standing communities from aquifer fractures, and the aquifer became almost totally deprived of animal life. Groundwater communities are notorious for their low resilience. Therefore, any major disturbance that negatively impacts survival or reproduction may lead to local extinction of species, most of them being the only survivors of phylogenetic lineages extinct at the Earth surface. Given the ecological key role played by the subterranean fauna as decomposers of organic matter and “ecosystem engineers”, we urge more detailed, long-term studies on the effect of major disturbances to groundwater ecosystems.

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Most cited references 6

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Nonrandom extinction and the loss of evolutionary history.

The hierarchical nature of phylogenies means that random extinction of species affects a smaller fraction of higher taxa, and so the total amount of evolutionary history lost may be comparatively slight. However, current extinction risk is not phylogenetically random. We show the potentially severe implications of the clumped nature of threat for the loss of biodiversity. An additional 120 avian and mammalian genera are at risk compared with the number predicted under random extinction. We estimate that the prospective extra loss of mammalian evolutionary history alone would be equivalent to losing a monotypic phylum.
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Streamflow and water well responses to earthquakes.

Earthquake-induced crustal deformation and ground shaking can alter stream flow and water levels in wells through consolidation of surficial deposits, fracturing of solid rocks, aquifer deformation, and the clearing of fracture-filling material. Although local conditions affect the type and amplitude of response, a compilation of reported observations of hydrological response to earthquakes indicates that the maximum distance to which changes in stream flow and water levels in wells have been reported is related to earthquake magnitude. Detectable streamflow changes occur in areas within tens to hundreds of kilometers of the epicenter, whereas changes in groundwater levels in wells can occur hundreds to thousands of kilometers from earthquake epicenters.
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Using Boreholes as Windows into Groundwater Ecosystems

Groundwater ecosystems remain poorly understood yet may provide ecosystem services, make a unique contribution to biodiversity and contain useful bio-indicators of water quality. Little is known about ecosystem variability, the distribution of invertebrates within aquifers, or how representative boreholes are of aquifers. We addressed these issues using borehole imaging and single borehole dilution tests to identify three potential aquifer habitats (fractures, fissures or conduits) intercepted by two Chalk boreholes at different depths beneath the surface (34 to 98 m). These habitats were characterised by sampling the invertebrates, microbiology and hydrochemistry using a packer system to isolate them. Samples were taken with progressively increasing pumped volume to assess differences between borehole and aquifer communities. The study provides a new conceptual framework to infer the origin of water, invertebrates and microbes sampled from boreholes. It demonstrates that pumping 5 m3 at 0.4–1.8 l/sec was sufficient to entrain invertebrates from five to tens of metres into the aquifer during these packer tests. Invertebrates and bacteria were more abundant in the boreholes than in the aquifer, with associated water chemistry variations indicating that boreholes act as sites of enhanced biogeochemical cycling. There was some variability in invertebrate abundance and bacterial community structure between habitats, indicating ecological heterogeneity within the aquifer. However, invertebrates were captured in all aquifer samples, and bacterial abundance, major ion chemistry and dissolved oxygen remained similar. Therefore the study demonstrates that in the Chalk, ecosystems comprising bacteria and invertebrates extend from around the water table to 70 m below it. Hydrogeological techniques provide excellent scope for tackling outstanding questions in groundwater ecology, provided an appropriate conceptual hydrogeological understanding is applied.

Author and article information

Affiliations
[1]Department of Life, Health & Environmental Sciences, University of L'Aquila, L'Aquila (Italy)
[2]Institute of Ecosystem Studies - ISE-CNR, Florence (Italy)
[3]Department of Earth Sciences, La Sapienza University, Rome (Italy)
[4]CETEMPS-Department of Physical and Chemical Sciences, University of L'Aquila, L'Aquila (Italy)
Author notes
Journal
Sci Rep
Sci Rep
Scientific Reports
Nature Publishing Group
2045-2322
03 September 2014
2014
: 4
Copyright © 2014, Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in the credit line; if the material is not included under the Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission from the license holder in order to reproduce the material. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

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