A holistic approach to groundwater protection and ecosystem services in karst terrains

  • Nico GoldscheiderEmail author


A holistic conceptual approach to groundwater and natural resources protection, surface and subsurface biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services in karst terrains is presented. Karst landscapes and aquifers consist of carbonate rock in which a part of the fractures has been enlarged by chemical dissolution. They are characterized by unique geomorphological and hydrogeological characteristics, such as rapid infiltration of rainwater, lack of surface waters, and turbulent flow in a network of fractures, conduits and caves. Karst terrains contain valuable but vulnerable resources, such as water, soil and vegetation, and they provide a great variety of habitats to many species, both at the surface and underground, including many rare and endemic species. Karst terrains deliver valuable ecosystem services and act as natural sinks for carbon dioxide (CO2) thus helping to mitigate climate change. It is demonstrated that all these resources and ecosystem services cannot be considered in an isolated way, but are intensely interconnected. Because of these complex feedback mechanisms, impacts on isolated elements of the karst ecosystem can have unexpected impacts on other elements or even on the entire ecosystem. Therefore, the protection of natural resources, biodiversity and ecosystem services in karst requires a holistic approach.


Karst ecosystem Groundwater Vulnerability Biodiversity Soil erosion Carbon dioxide sink 



  1. Achurra A, Rodriguez P (2008) Biodiversity of groundwater oligochaetes from a karst unit in northern Iberian Peninsula: ranking subterranean sites for conservation management. Hydrobiologia 605:159–171CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aukema JE, Carlo TA, Collazo JA (2007) Landscape assessment of tree communities in the northern karst region of Puerto Rico. Plant Ecol 189:101–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Aureli A (2010) The UNESCO IHP’s shared aquifer resources management global project. AQUAmundi 1:1–6Google Scholar
  4. Bakalowicz M (2005) Karst groundwater: a challenge for new resources. Hydrogeol J 13:148–160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bautista F, Palacio-Aponte G, Quintana P, Zinck JA (2011) Spatial distribution and development of soils in tropical karst areas from the Peninsula of Yucatan, Mexico. Geomorphology 135:308–321CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Biondic B, Biondic R, Measki H (2010) The conceptual hydrogeological model of the Plitvice Lakes. Geologia Croatica 63:195–206CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Blume H-P, Brümmer G, Schwertmann U, Horn R, Kögel-Knabner I, Stahr K, Auerswald K, Beyer L, Hartmann A, Litz N, Scheinost A, Stanjek H, Welp G, Wilke B-W (2002) Scheffer/Schachtschabel: Lehrbuch der Bodenkunde, 15th edn. Spektrum Akademischer, WiesbadenGoogle Scholar
  8. Bögli A (1964) Mischungskorrosion—ein Beitrag zum Verkarstungsproblem [mixing corrosions—a contribution to the problem of karstification]. Erdkunde 18:83–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bonacci O, Pipan T, Culver DC (2009) A framework for karst ecohydrology. Environ Geol 56:891–900CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Celico F, Naclerio G, Bucci A, Nerone V, Capuano P, Carcione M, Allocca V, Celico P (2010) Influence of pyroclastic soil on epikarst formation: a test study in southern Italy. Terra Nova 22:110–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chen CC, Gillig D, McCarl BA (2001) Effects of climatic change on a water dependent regional economy: a study of the Texas Edwards Aquifer. Climatic Change 49:397–409CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Christman MC, Culver DC (2001) The relationship between cave biodiversity and available habitat. J Biogeogr 28:367–380CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Clements R, Sodhi NS, Schilthuizen M, Ng PKL (2006) Limestone karsts of southeast Asia: imperiled arks of biodiversity. Bioscience 56:733–742CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Culver DC, Master LL, Christman MC, Hobbs HH (2000) Obligate cave fauna of the 48 contiguous United States. Conserv Biol 14:386–401CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Danielopol DL, Pospisil P (2001) Hidden biodiversity in the groundwater of the Danube Flood Plain National Park (Austria). Biodivers Conserv 10:1711–1721CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Danielopol DL, Rouch R, Baltanas A (2002) Taxonomic diversity of groundwater harpacticoida (Copepoda, Crustacea) in southern France—a contribution to characterise hotspot diversity sites. Vie Et Milieu-Life and Environment 52:1–15Google Scholar
  17. De Vita P, Allocca V, Manna F, Fabbrocino S (2012) Coupled decadal variability of the North Atlantic Oscillation, regional rainfall and karst spring discharges in the Campania region (southern Italy). Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 16:1389–1399CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dreybrodt W (1990) The role of dissolution kinetics in the development of karstification in limestone: a model simulation of karst evolution. J Geol 98:639–655CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dreybrodt W (2000) Equilibrium chemistry of karst waters in limestone terranes. In: Klimchouk A, Ford DC, Palmer AN, Dreybrodt W (eds) Speleogenesis, evolution of karst aquifers. National Speleological Society Inc, Huntsville, pp 126–135Google Scholar
  20. Dreybrodt W, Kaufmann G (2007) Physics and chemistry of dissolution on subaerialy exposed soluble rocks by flowing water films. Acta Carsologica 36:357–367Google Scholar
  21. Dymond JR (2010) Soil erosion in New Zealand is a net sink of CO2. Earth Surf Proc Land 35:1763–1772CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Elliott WR (2007) Zoogeography and biodiversity of Missouri caves and karst. J Cave and Karst Stud 69:135–162Google Scholar
  23. Engel AS (2007) Observations on the biodiversity of sulfidic karst habitats. J Cave and Karst Stud 69:187–206Google Scholar
  24. Feeser I, O’Connell M (2009) Fresh insights into long-term changes in flora, vegetation, land use and soil erosion in the karstic environment of the Burren, western Ireland. J Ecol 97:1083–1100CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Felice V, Visconti MA, Trajano E (2008) Mechanisms of pigmentation loss in subterranean fishes. Neotropical Ichthyol 6:657–662CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Fiorillo F, Doglioni A (2010) The relation between karst spring discharge and rainfall by cross-correlation analysis (Campania, southern Italy). Hydrogeol J 18:1881–1895CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ford D, Williams DW (1989) Karst geomorphology and hydrology. Unwin Hyman, BostonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Ford D, Williams P (2007) Karst hydrogeology and geomorphology. Wiley, ChichesterCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Furey NM, Mackie IJ, Racey PA (2010) Bat diversity in Vietnamese limestone karst areas and the implications of forest degradation. Biodivers Conserv 19:1821–1838CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Gabrovsek F (2007) On denudation rates in Karst. Acta Carsologica 36:7–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Gabrovsek F, Dreybrodt W (2000) Role of mixing corrosion in calcite-aggressive H2O–CO2–CaCO3 solutions in the early evolution of karst aquifers in limestone. Water Resour Res 36:1179–1188CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Gabrovsek F, Dreybrodt W (2001) A model of the early evolution of karst aquifers in limestone in the dimensions of length and depth. J Hydrol 240:206–224CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Goldscheider N (2005) Karst groundwater vulnerability mapping: application of a new method in the Swabian Alb, Germany. Hydrogeol J 13:555–564CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Goldscheider N, Drew D (2007) Methods in karst hydrogeology. Taylor & Francis, LondonGoogle Scholar
  35. Groves C, Meiman J (2005) Weathering, geomorphic work, and karst landscape evolution in the Cave City groundwater basin, Mammoth Cave, Kentucky. Geomorphology 67:115–126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Hamilton-Smith E (2007) Karst and world heritage status. Acta Carsologica 36:291–302CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hancock PJ, Boulton AJ, Humphreys WF (2005) Aquifers and hyporheic zones: towards an ecological understanding of groundwater. Hydrogeol J 13:98–111CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Humphreys WF (2006) Aquifers: the ultimate groundwater-dependent ecosystems. Aust J Bot 54:115–132CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Jiang YJ, Li LL, Wu YX, Jia YA, Yuan DX (2008) Temporal-spatial variability of soil fertility in karst region: a case study of Xiaojiang watershed Yunnan. Environ Geol 55:875–887CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Kheir RB, Abdallah C, Khawlie A (2008) Assessing soil erosion in Mediterranean karst landscapes of Lebanon using remote sensing and GIS. Eng Geol 99:239–254CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Kovacs A, Perrochet P, Kiraly L, Jeannin PY (2005) A quantitative method for the characterisation of karst aquifers based on spring hydrograph analysis. J Hydrol 303:152–164CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Kresic N, Stevanovic Z (2010) Groundwater hydrology of springs. Engineering, theory, management, and sustainability. Elsevier, Butterworth-Heinemann, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  43. Kufmann C (2003) Soil types and eolian dust in high-mountainous karst of the Northern Calcareous Alps (Zugspitzplatt, Wetterstein Mountains, Germany). Catena 53:211–227CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Liu ZH, Li Q, Sun HL, Wang JL (2007) Seasonal, diurnal and storm-scale hydrochemical variations of typical epikarst springs in subtropical karst areas of SW China: soil CO2 and dilution effects. J Hydrol 337:207–223CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Liu ZH, Dreybrodt W, Wang HJ (2008) A possible important CO2 sink by the global water cycle. Chin Sci Bull 53:402–407CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Liu ZH, Dreybrodt W, Wang HJ (2010) A new direction in effective accounting for the atmospheric CO2 budget: considering the combined action of carbonate dissolution, the global water cycle and photosynthetic uptake of DIC by aquatic organisms. Earth Sci Rev 99:162–172CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Liu ZH, Dreybrodt W, Liu H (2011) Atmospheric CO2 sink: silicate weathering or carbonate weathering? Appl Geochem 26:S292–S294CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Lu YR, Zhang FE, Liu CL, Tong GB, Zhang Y (2006) Groundwater systems and eco-hydrological features in the main karst regions of China. Acta Geol Sin Eng Ed 80:743–753Google Scholar
  49. Mahler BJ, Lynch L, Bennett PC (1999) Mobile sediment in an urbanizing karst aquifer: implications for contaminant transport. Environ Geol 39:25–38CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Mahler BJ, Personne JC, Lods GF, Drogue C (2000) Transport of free and particulate-associated bacteria in karst. J Hydrol 238:179–193CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Maloszewski P, Stichler W, Zuber A, Rank D (2002) Identifying the flow systems in a karstic-fissured-porous aquifer, the Schneealpe, Austria, by modelling of environmental O-18 and H-3 isotopes. J Hydrol 256:48–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Moran J, Sheehy SM, Gormally M (2008) The influence of hydrological regime and grazing management on the plant communities of a karst wetland (Skealoghan turlough) in Ireland. Appl Veg Sci 11:13–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Münzel SC, Seeberger F, Hein W (2002) The Geißenklösterle Flute—Discovery, Experiments, Reconstruction. In: Hickmann E, Kilmer AD, Eichmann R (eds) Studien zur Musikarchäologie III; Archäologie früher Klangerzeugung und Tonordnung; Musikarchäologie in der Ägäis und Anatolien. Orient-Archäologie, vol 10. Verlag Marie Leidorf GmbH, Rahden, pp 107–118Google Scholar
  54. Pezdirc M, Heath E, Mali LB, Bulog B (2011) PCB accumulation and tissue distribution in cave salamander (Proteus anguinus anguinus, Amphibia, Urodela) in the polluted karstic hinterland of the Krupa River, Slovenia. Chemosphere 84:987–993CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Pimentel D, Kounang N (1998) Ecology of soil erosion in ecosystems. Ecosystems 1:416–426CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Pipan T, Navodnik V, Janzekovic F, Novak T (2008) Studies of the fauna of percolation water of Huda luknja, a cave in isolated karst in northeast Slovenia. Acta Carsologica 37:141–151CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Postel SL, Thompson BH (2005) Watershed protection: capturing the benefits of nature’s water supply services. Nat Resour Forum 29:98–108CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Pronk M, Goldscheider N, Zopfi J, Zwahlen F (2009) Percolation and particle transport in the unsaturated zone of a karst aquifer. Ground Water 47:361–369CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Ravbar N, Goldscheider N (2007) Proposed methodology of vulnerability and contamination risk mapping for the protection of karst aquifers in Slovenia. Acta Carsologica 36:397–411CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Ravbar N, Engelhardt I, Goldscheider N (2011) Anomalous behaviour of specific electrical conductivity at a karst spring induced by variable catchment boundaries: the case of the Podstenjsek spring, Slovenia. Hydrol Process 25:2130–2140CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Shepard L, Gutierrez M (1999) Metal retention in a thin karstic soil, Christian County, Missouri. Environ Geol 37:107–111CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Sket B (1999) High biodiversity in hypogean waters and its endangerment—the situation in Slovenia, the Dinaric Karst, and Europe. Crustaceana 72:767–779CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Stoate C, Boatman ND, Borralho RJ, Carvalho CR, de Snoo GR, Eden P (2001) Ecological impacts of arable intensification in Europe. J Environ Manage 63:337–365CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Sweet JR, Rauch HW, White WB (1976) Role of hydrodynamics in controlling dissolution rate of limestone. Trans Am Geophys Union 57:249Google Scholar
  65. Tuyet D (2001) Characteristics of karst ecosystems of Vietnam and their vulnerability to human impact. Acta Geologica Sinica-English Edition 75:325–329CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Voituron Y, de Fraipont M, Issartel J, Guillaume O, Clobert J (2011) Extreme lifespan of the human fish (Proteus anguinus): a challenge for ageing mechanisms. Biol Let 7:105–107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. White WB (2007) Evolution and age relations of karst landscapes. Acta Carsologica 36:45–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Williams PW (2008) The role of the epikarst in karst and cave hydrogeology: a review. Int J Speleol 37:1–10CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Winston WE, Criss RE (2004) Dynamic hydrologic and geochemical response in a perennial karst spring. Water Resour Res 40(5):W05106CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Wong CI, Mahler BJ, Musgrove M, Banner JL (2012) Changes in sources and storage in a karst aquifer during a transition from drought to wet conditions. J Hydrol 468:159–172CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Workman C (2010) Diet of the Delacour’s langur (Trachypithecus delacouri) in Van Long Nature Reserve, Vietnam. Am J Primatol 72:317–324Google Scholar
  72. Xu YQ, Luo D, Peng J (2011) Land use change and soil erosion in the Maotiao River watershed of Guizhou Province. J Geog Sci 21:1138–1152CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Yang ZS, Yang LF, Zhang BS (2010) Soil erosion and its basic characteristics at karst rocky-desertified land consolidation area: a case study at Muzhe Village of Xichou County in Southeast Yunnan, China. J Mt Sci 7:55–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Yuan DX (2001) On the karst ecosystem. Acta Geologica Sinica-English Edition 75:336–338Google Scholar
  75. Zaimes GN, Emmanouloudis D, Iakovoglou V (2012) Estimating soil erosion in Natura 2000 areas located on three semi-arid Mediterranean islands. J Environ Biol 33:277–282Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Hydrogeology, Institute of Applied GeosciencesKarlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)KarlsruheGermany

Personalised recommendations