Groundwater comprises the largest freshwater ecosystem on the planet. It has a distinct regime of extreme, yet stable environmental conditions that have favoured the development of similar morphological and functional traits in the resident invertebrate fauna (stygofauna).
The analysis of community traits is increasingly used as an alternative to taxonomy-based assessments of biodiversity, especially for monitoring ecosystem status and linking the functions of organisms to ecological processes, yet it has been rarely applied to stygofauna and groundwater ecosystems.
In this paper, we review the variation in functional traits among the invertebrate fauna of this important ecosystem. We focus on the stygofauna and processes of alluvium and fractured rock aquifers that are typified by small voids and fissures that constrain the habitats and environmental conditions.
As a first step, we compare trait variability between groundwater and surface water invertebrate communities and then examine the significance of the ranges of these traits to the vulnerability of the ecosystem to change.
Fifteen potentially useful functional traits are recognised, with ten of these having narrower ranges (i.e., exhibiting fewer states, or attributes, of a particular trait) in groundwater than they do in surface water.
Our synthesis suggests that the relative stability of groundwater environments has led to low trait variability. The low biomass and low reproductive rate of stygofauna suggest that recovery potential following disturbance is likely to be low.
For the purposes of both improved understanding and effective management, further work is needed to document additional functional traits and their states in groundwater fauna, enabling a better understanding of the relationship between response and effect traits in these ecosystems.
Reference: Hose et al. (2022). Invertebrate traits, diversity and the vulnerability of groundwater ecosystems. Functional Ecology. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2435.14125