Basic information
Original title:
Protocol for the Assessment and Conservation of Aquatic Life In the Subsurface
Researchers involved:
1 January 2002–31 December 2004

Managing of groundwater-areas, without taking into account its biological aspects, influences the lowering of the biodiversity below the surface and the biodiversity of underground water ecosystems. The understanding of biodiversity of water-life under the Earth's surface is an important step in including biological concepts into the plan of managing groundwater and forming of new control means, e.g. biological indicators of ecosystem-health in the groundwater. The main project aims were: to establish a precise and detailed method for identifying the regional biodiversity in the groundwater; to identify potential indicators of biodiversity in the groundwater; to raise awareness of the general as well as the scientific public about the need to preserve the biodiversity in the groundwater with the emphasis on its economic, social and scientific value; to form a plan of actions to preserve the biodiversity in the groundwater on an European level. The project contributors from the Geographical Institute Anton Melik in 6 regions formed a sample of 24 river basins, which are similar regarding their natural wealth as well as their social characteristic, and try to establish what is the vulnerability of biodiversity in the area of the groundwater like, and what kind of risks for the loss of underground water ecosystems exist. We decided to choose the method of register, seeing that it enables an objective evaluation and comparison of around approximately 1200 of places where water was scooped as a sample in 6 regions with 4 river basins in the karst and fluvial relief, as we had to deal with 4 different types of “scooping places” (karst caves, karst sources, hyporheic, phreatic). We chose such indicators, which would show inner differentiation in rather homogenous areas. The selection of indicators was quite heterogeneous with some hard-to-get data (e.g. the number of sinkholes), we even had to give up on some indicators (e.g. soil thickness), but only on those which didn't profoundly influence the formation of the register. The data for different indicators varied in quality. Some indicators were given in their absolute value (e.g. the distance to the nearest town in kilometres), while others were given in a wide spectrum of classes (e.g. ground cover), while there were even some indicators which were divided only into three classes (e.g. the intensity of the activity). The results of natural and social factors show a reverse proportion. In a more sensitive and harder to manage karst landscape the consequences of human activities are less visible. In the fluvial landscape, which is more man-friendly, human activities have a greater impact, although we consciously chose those sample areas which are still the most intact. The results lead to a conclusion that the vulnerability is a little bit above the average, whereas the risk is a bit under the average. If we combine both evaluation marks we can establish great unity of both. We are dealing with a logical intertwining of natural characteristics and human activities. A more hard-to-manage landscape is usually more vulnerable though of lesser human activities and vice versa, which means that the similarity of the results shouldn't be too much of a surprise. The common evaluation mark of all types is just a bit below 3, which means below average. Therefore we can establish that the studied regions were correctly chosen, whereas at the same the chosen register based on various indicators with 5 classes also proved to be the right choice, seeing that the differences are so small, that combining them into 3 classes would unify the results too much and with that erase even such small differences.

Project manager

Project manager at ZRC


University Claude Bernard of Lyon (France) • Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique & University Paul Sabatier of Toulouse (France) • University of L’Aquila (Italy) • Biotehnical Faculty University of Ljubljana (Slovenia) • National Institute of Biology (Slovenia) • Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales de Madrid (Spain) • Departamento de Biodiversidad y Biologia Evolutiva Madrid (Spain) • Institut Royal des Sciences Naturelles de Belgique (Belgium)

Funded by

European Commission


groundwater • vulnerability • biodiversity