Making Subterranean Habitats Visible

The theme for World Water Day 2022 on Tuesday 22nd March is GROUNDWATER - MAKING THE INVISIBLE VISIBLE.

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Groundwater represents an estimated 95% of the non-frozen freshwater supply, and is relied upon by over ¼ of the human population.  In addition to groundwater, the subterranean biomes that contain groundwater are also vital for other human-relevant ecosystem functions, such as bioremediation and the organic carbon cycle. They also house important pollinating and seed dispersal birds and bats, along with tens to hundreds of thousands of terrestrial and aquatic species. 

Stefano Mammola (questioned below) and colleagues from Italy, Spain and Finland recently wrote for Nature Climate Change, on why subterranean biomes must not be forgotten in climate change and conservation agendas.

What made you want to write this piece?

We decided to write this piece because the effects of global change on subterranean ecosystems are too often overlooked by the scientific community and society. 

What have you been working on since?

I'm currently leading a European Marie-Curie project (https://cordis.europa.eu/project/id/882221/it) focused on the use of caves as a simplified model system in ecology. We aim to quantify which species traits are connected to a higher sensitivity to climate change (and other environmental alterations) and identify which subterranean organisms can be used as bioclimatic indicators. We expect that specific functional traits should be associated with a higher risk of extinction in subterranean species, making it possible to predict the extinction risk based on the functional attributes of the individual species and the functional structure of the community.

What do you want to see in the future?

I would love to see subterranean biodiversity and resources included in general conservation plans and agendas. For example, the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030—a plan to create protected areas for 30% of EU land and sea territories—would be the perfect frame to incorporate subterranean ecosystems and groundwater resources in the expanding network of protected areas. 

Read the full correspondence on the importance of subterranean ecosystems here.

Image Credit: Valentina Monaco and authors.

Tegan Armarego-Marriott

Senior Editor, Nature Climate Change