Ecohydrogeology: The interdisciplinary convergence needed to improve the study and stewardship of springs and other groundwater-dependent habitats, biota, and ecosystems

Marco Cantonati, Lawrence E. Stevens, Stefano Segadelli, Abraham E. Springer, Nico Goldscheider, Fulvio Celico, Maria Filippini, Kei Ogata, Alessandro Gargini

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55 Scopus citations


This essay discusses the need for, advantages and challenges of integrating the scientific disciplines of ecology and hydrogeology in the study of groundwater-dependent ecosystems (GDEs). We provide a definition for ecohydrogeology as “a unifying, synthetic field of study integrating the approaches from the ecological and hydrogeological sciences in the study of groundwater (GW)-related ecosystems, habitats, and organisms to advance science, stewardship, and policy”. We selected specific case studies to illustrate first how hydrogeological approaches can favour in-depth understanding and modelling of springs and crenobiontic (spring-dependent) species distribution, assemblage composition and organization. Second, this essay also examines how taxa and assemblages serve as bioassays and ecosystem indicators to infer hydrogeological aspects of GW flow and discharge, as well as quantitative and qualitative human impacts. We consider both types of features and parameters as ecohydrogeological indicators. The examples presented include topics related to springs and other GDE geomorphological types and classification, GW quality influences on crenobiont distribution, phreatophyte (= plant species the roots of which reach to and into the water table) ecophysiology in relation to water table depth, and flow variability in karstic systems, to nutrient dynamics in relation to dinoflagellate blooms in GDE montane lakes. Conceptual approaches that integrate ecology with hydrogeology include the investigation of GDE distribution and ecology, groundwater-surface water (GW-SW) interactions, and the development of the discipline of ecohydrology. Despite widespread applications, the scientific community still lacks a complete or effective integration of the principles described in the fields of groundwater hydrogeology with ecology, ecophysiology, and environmental biology. Springs are aquatic-wetland-riparian habitats that link shallow subsurface-surface processes and assemblages, often functioning as biodiversity hotspots, ecotones, keystone, and refugial ecosystems, for which coordination between studies of hydrogeology and ecology are both obvious and essential. Over the past century, springs ecosystem ecology has been largely ignored by hydrologists, and, conversely, hydrogeology has been under-emphasized by ecologists. Recent global recognition of the extraordinary biodiversity and socio-cultural significance of springs, coupled with their globally highly threatened conservation status, stimulated this inquiry into how to better integrate hydrogeology with springs ecosystem ecology. Acknowledging the highly threatened status of springs ecosystems around the world, there is an urgent need to integrate and invigorate the union of these disciplines into ecohydrogeology, the study of groundwater-dependent organisms, habitats, ecosystems, and management policy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105803
JournalEcological Indicators
StatePublished - Mar 2020


  • Ecohydrogeology
  • Ecosystem ecology
  • Freshwater
  • Groundwater-dependent ecosystem (GDE)
  • Groundwater-surface water interaction
  • Hydrogeology
  • Management
  • Policy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Decision Sciences
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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