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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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          Current developments in groundwater ecology--from biodiversity to ecosystem function and services.

          Groundwater ecosystems constitute the largest terrestrial freshwater biome. They are dark, extremely low in energy and do not provide much space but they contain an unexpectedly high diversity of living forms showing characteristic adaptive features. The restricted accessibility along with the enormous 'invisible' heterogeneity challenged for a long time testing of scientific theories and unraveling of ecosystem functioning. Triggered by an improved interdisciplinarity, comprehensive sampling strategies and current developments in biotechnology and statistical analysis, groundwater ecology gains momentum entering a new era of research. We are only beginning to understand adaptive mechanisms, species distribution patterns and ecosystem functioning. Ninety-five percent of global liquid freshwater is stored in the terrestrial subsurface constituting a major source of water for drinking, irrigation and industrial purposes. There is an urgent need to integrate evolutionary and ecological research for developing a holistic perspective of the functional roles of biodiversity and ecosystem services and predicting global changes under alternative groundwater resource use scenarios.
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            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
            25182013
            4152748
            srep06273
            10.1038/srep06273
            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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