Monday, January 21, 2013

Groundwater Critters & Creepy Crawlers

Groundwater critters, you say?  Have you lost your mind?  Well, it's actually true that animals can and do live in many aquifers around the world.  The little creature to the right is one such critter - called by the generic name of Stygofauna, which are small animals that live in groundwater environs.  Yes, actually within the aquifer itself.  They are very small and tend to be colorless and blind, but their variations can be amazing.  In Australia a research group has discovered 850 new species of these kinds of invertebrates.

Actually, the groundwater creatures are called Stygofauna while the cave and micro-cavern critters are called troglofauna.  Leave it up to the Aussies to make this distinction!

Here are two links that can be used for a bit more detail:  Waiology Blog; and  Both these blog articles are interesting and very well done.

There has also been quite a bit of work in Italy looking at these Stygofauna in wells connected to deeper aquifers that have been receiving municipal wastewater disposal injections for twenty years or so.  The conclusion is that Stygofauna are extremely sensitive to environmental changes in water chemistry and temperature.

This field, often called Groundwater Ecology, or something similar, seems to be one of the newer fields developing in the groundwater and hydrologic sciences.  The first references I can easily find are pointing to a late 1980's origin, but I'm sure a few folks have been well aware of these animals for quite some time before that.

Stygofauna are said to be vestiges or relics of former surface-water system animals and are very old in their lineage.  They do best in well-functioning groundwater systems, which are described as those transferring the most water and energy throughout the system.  Karst systems and very transmissive aquifers in communication with surface water systems certainly meet this criteria, but the literature I read did not quantify these parameters beyond this general statement. 

For me, unless I stick my toe in the well and get bitten or hauled in, I'm probably going to miss this issue altogether!  Can't wait for EPA to start listing these guys as endangered!  Anyway, if you have never heard of Stygofauna before, now you know just enough to be dangerous!

1 comment:

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