Towards a Conceptual Understanding of Groundwater Ecology

H.O Nwankwoala


In recent times, ecohydrology and hydroecology are making a mark on theenvironmental agenda, as evidenced by the proliferation of these terms in theacademic literature. There is an increasing recognition that groundwater is essentialto many ecological communities. Surface ecological processes (such asevapotranspiration) significantly impact hydrological responses and relatedhydrochemical function. Thus, the relation of groundwater hydrology to patternsand processes in ecology is a ‘two-way street’ where understanding the feedback ofone to the other serves as a powerful lens through which to evaluate and explainthe functioning of natural ecosystems. Influxes of groundwater to lakes, rivers, andwetlands can change whole-system physico-chemical properties such astemperature and salinity, while also providing more subtle influences onmicroenvironments and their ecological processes. The recognition of thesignificance and power of this tandem has not always been followed with effectiveinterdisciplinary science. The ecological, hydrological, and physico-chemical linksbetween groundwater, surface water and associated ecosystems are seldom fullyunderstood even though true characterization and wise management will require amultidisciplinary approach. This means biologists need to understand theimportance of magnitude and timing of groundwater flows for their system, whichrequires the skills of hydrogeologists to achieve. Hydrogeologists, in turn, mustunderstand how and why groundwater influences ecological processes so that theirexpertise is brought to bear at a scale commensurate to the ecological researchquestion. In this paper therefore, an overview of general concepts, research effortsand future perspectives are presented. More importantly, the paper asserts that it isnot simply the integration of hydrology and ecology that will determine the futureprospects for ecohydrology/hydroecology, but the way in which this integrativescience is conducted.

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