How to preserve subterranean biodiversity

Our international collaborative team in the Biodiversa funded project DarCo has published a perspective paper in npj biodiversity. Subterranean ecosystems, consisting of terrestrial, semi-aquatic, and aquatic components, face increasing threats from human activities, and existing surface-protected areas are insufficient to safeguard their biodiversity. Establishing protected areas for subterranean ecosystems is hindered by technical challenges in mapping three-dimensional systems, the rarity and endemism of subterranean organisms, and the need for collaboration among multiple stakeholders with competing interests. Despite uncertainties, our paper emphasizes the timely and critical assessment of general criteria for subterranean biodiversity protection, advocating for their implementation based on precautionary principles and proposing solutions to enhance the coverage of subterranean ecosystems within European protected areas.

Groundwater is a hidden keystone ecosystem

In an international collaboration published in Global Change Biology, we investigated the importance of groundwater as a key global ecosystem. Groundwater plays a central role in the global water cycle, harbors a unique biodiversity and provides important ecosystem services such as clean drinking water. However, it is under increasing pressure and is often neglected in nature conservation. Our assessments show that groundwater interacts with more than half of the land surface. It is therefore essential to recognize its interconnected nature and pursue holistic approaches to groundwater protection. We propose eight concrete steps for a scientific and political agenda to protect groundwater and combat the loss of its biodiversity.

The Conversation published an article on the publication:

Environmental DNA and participatory science to map groundwater fauna

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In our most recent study, published in Scientific Reports (, we used participatory science and environmental DNA (eDNA) metabarcoding to investigate groundwater amphipods and to capture a broader picture of the groundwater community, including microorganisms. Combining both methods revealed co-occurring amphipod species and their correlation with overall groundwater biodiversity, enhancing our understanding of subterranean ecosystems. In conclusion, we propose two novel methods for studying groundwater organisms, which can be applied independently or, more effectively, in combination. These approaches offer valuable tools for addressing uncharted aspects of subterranean biology.

Taxonomic work on groundwater organisms

The latest two publications from our work on groundwater treat taxonomic questions on Niphargus and Haplotaxis. In a first study published in Zoologischer Anzeiger, we used molecular methods to review the taxonomic status of the Niphargus ruffoi clade, including the species N. ruffoi and Niphargus arolaensis, across the Alpine arc. In another study published in Zoosymposia, we questioned the supposedly sub-cosmopolitan species status of Haplotaxis gordioides, with our results suggesting that the species is a complex of at least 6 cryptic species in Switzerland.

Environmental DNA in groundwater

Through close cooperation with local waterproviders in the Töss catchment area, we were able to detect a diverse groundwater fauna. The corresponding publication has just been published in Molecular Ecology ( In contrast to earlier studies, we did not have to use nets and actually catch the organisms, but were able to detect them on the basis of DNA traces in water samples. We were able to show that the diversity of groundwater fauna differs depending on whether the samples were taken from agricultural or forested sites. However, it is not yet possible to make a statement about the cause or to do a water quality assessment. Eawag has published a news article on the publication. Many thanks also to the FOEN, the SVGW and Eawag for their financial support of the research project.