A framework for karst ecohydrology

Ognjen Bonacci
Tanja Pipan
David C. Culver

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Ecohydrology can be defined as the science of integrating hydrological and biological processes over varied spatial and temporal scales. There exists in karst a strong and direct interaction between the circulation and storage of groundwater and surface water. These fluxes in turn affect the spatial distribution of organisms in these habitats. Because of the fact that the appearance, storage and circulation of water in karstified areas is significantly different from other more homogenous and isotropic terrains, karst ecohydrology should develop original methods and approaches. At the same time, traditional approaches are also very useful. Large karst underground geomorphological patterns occur in many sizes and varieties, ranging from a few meters long or deep to very large, the deepest being deeper than 1km and longer than hundreds of kilometres. In this article, special attention is paid to ecohydrological functions of karst underground features (caves, pits, conduits, etc.), which play a crucial dual role in (1) hydrology and hydrogeology of water circulation and storage and (2) ecology of many rare and endangered species. Differences in morphology, hydrology, hydrogeology and climate have resulted in a range of different environments, which provide the opportunity for the coexistence of different species. The role of the epikarst and vadose zones, as well as caves in ecohydrological processes, is discussed. The importance of the flood factor in karst ecology is analysed. The aim of this article is to move forward the discussion among different disciplines to promote and develop a conceptual framework for karst ecohydrology.