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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: November 2014

Chapter 24 - Down under Down Under: Austral groundwater life



Aquifers of the Austral region are globally significant in terms of their biodiversity. They support a rich and unique fauna, specifically adapted to the harsh subterranean environment. In this chapter we review the nature and diversity of groundwater ecosystems across the Austral region. We consider first the global origins of the Australian groundwater fauna, and their distributions across Gondwana. As the Australian continent evolved, the western shield emerged from the sea during the Proterozoic, which has led to a distinct fauna in those ancient landscapes. In the ‘newer’ eastern Austral regions there has also emerged a rich groundwater fauna, and here we review the current knowledge of fauna in eastern Australia and New Zealand. Mining and agricultural development threaten groundwater ecosystems across the region, but perhaps the greatest threat is our current lack of knowledge of these unique and important ecosystems and their biota. New approaches for conservation planning provide hope for improved recognition and protection of groundwater ecosystems, but with relatively little surveying of groundwater fauna having been done across the region, much remains undiscovered.


Being the driest inhabited continent on Earth, the availability of water has always been a critical factor shaping the evolution and distribution of species across Australia. So too, the availability of water is critical to the survival and prosperity of human populations across the broader region, from small outback towns to major capital cities. As human pressures increase demand for water, groundwater is increasingly being used to meet water needs of households, industries and farms. Groundwater use accounts for around 20% of the total water used across Australia, it is more than 50% in New Zealand (Fenwick et al. 2004), and in many areas it is the only reliable water supply.

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