, Volume 661, Issue 1, pp 329–349 | Cite as

A tiered framework for assessing groundwater ecosystem health

  • K. L. Korbel
  • G. C. Hose
Primary research paper


The notion of ecosystem health has been widely adopted in environmental policy, particularly in the management of river systems. Despite this, even a notional understanding of ecosystem health and its assessment in connected aquifer ecosystems remains elusive. In this article, we propose a definition and provide a tiered framework for the assessment of ecosystem health in groundwater. From the literature we identify general attributes of a healthy groundwater ecosystem and from these develop primary (Tier 1) indicators of health. Where Tier 1 benchmarks are exceeded or more detailed assessment is required, we discuss a range of indicators (Tier 2) that may together generate a multimetric index of groundwater health. Our case study using samples from an alluvial aquifer in north-western New South Wales, Australia, demonstrates the utility of both tiers of the framework, and the ability of the approach to separate disturbed and undisturbed sites. The process of multimetric development is simple and our Tier 2 benchmarks determined from limited data. Nevertheless, our framework will be applicable and readily adaptable to site-specific contexts.


Groundwater Ecosystem health Indicators Aquifers Stygofauna Groundwater ecosystems 



We gratefully acknowledge the Cotton Catchment Communities CRC and Department of Environmental Sciences, UTS, for providing financial support. NSW Office of Water provided access to bores and analyses of water. Josie Lategan assisted with field work and advice on microbiological analysis, and Norman Booth assisted with cotton strength testing. Andrew Boulton and Peter Hancock provided comments and discussion on this topic which led to the development and improvement of this manuscript. The comments of Christian Griebler and an anonymous reviewer were valuable in improving this manuscript. Peter Hancock and Peter Serov assisted with identification of stygofauna. Sarah Stephenson assisted with fieldwork.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental SciencesUniversity of Technology SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Biological SciencesMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  3. 3.Department of Environment and GeographyMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  4. 4.Cotton Catchment Communities CRCNarrabriAustralia

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