Ecological assessment of groundwater ecosystems – Vision or illusion?


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January 2010


Environmental policy and in particular the European water legislation, in the framework of the EU Groundwater Directive, has started to consider groundwater not only as a resource but as a living ecosystem. A precondition for comprehensive groundwater protection is thus the assessment of the biological and ecological state. The assessment of ecosystems requires consideration of ecological criteria, which so far are not available for groundwater systems. In the framework of a national project, the German Federal Environment Agency (UBA) supports a consortium of scientists and stakeholders from water boards and regional environmental authorities to develop a first concept for an ecological assessment scheme for groundwater ecosystems. The attempts towards an integrative concept include the following steps: (i) selection of appropriate biological and ecological parameters, (ii) typology of groundwater ecosystems, (iii) derivation of a reference status (Leitbild) and natural background values for biological variables, (iv) identification of potential bioindicators and definition of threshold values, and (v) development of an assessment model. These proposed steps are discussed on the basis of a data set from two groundwater landscapes in Southern Germany. Investigations considered three different spatial units, i.e. the habitat unit at the local scale, and the aquifer type unit as well as the landscape unit at the regional scale. Fauna as well as bacterial communities could provide valuable ecological information on the ecosystems status. The paper reviews ‘state of the art’ knowledge and evaluates the near future perspectives for the development and implementation of groundwater ecosystems assessment programmes.


Aquifers, Bioindicators, Ecological Assessment, Groundwater Ecosystems, Biomonitoring, Stygofauna

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Ecological Engineering, Vol. 36, no. 9 (2010).