Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Geography, Environment and Planning

Major Professor

Philip E. van Beynen, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kamal Alsharif, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Joni Downs, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Mark Rains, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Benjamin Schwartz, Ph.D.


environmental index, groundwater vulnerability, karst, caves, natural resource management, GIS


Research has long recognized and studied the dynamics of groundwater processes. More recently, groundwater dependent ecosystems (GDEs) are being recognized for their diversity and vulnerability to anthropogenic impact. Groundwater in karst landscapes presents a distinctive situation where flow through the subsurface often moves rapidly on the scale of days and weeks as opposed to years or millennia in other systems. This distinctive situation of karst systems and their vulnerability to human impacts necessitate an integrated and multifaceted approach for the management of these important resources. However, development of such an approach is complicated by the difficulty of obtaining detailed data about the ecosystem, especially in remote areas of developing countries. Additionally, management difficulties related to political boundaries, jurisdictions, and land ownership can result in ineffective and inconsistent policies and practices across a single catchment. In order to address these issues, this dissertation creates a new composite model for groundwater dependent ecosystem (GDE) management in areas of karst development. Within this new composite model, the combination of the Karst Disturbance Index (KDI) and groundwater vulnerability mapping recognizes both human disturbance and how the physical nature of the karst will enhance this impact. These studies bridge the gap between science and management by connecting the final model to management strategies for a sub-catchment of the Rio la Venta watershed, the majority of which is within the Reserva de la Biosfera Selva el Ocote in Chiapas, Mexico. This composite model serves as an adaptable spatial tool for management planning and protection for all components of the karst environment.