Original paper

Agricultural impact on Mediterranean alluvial aquifers: do groundwater communities respond?

Di Lorenzo, Tiziana; Galassi, Diana M.P.


In Mediterranean countries agricultural development heavily depends on groundwater availability due to arid and semi-arid climate and poor surface-water resources. Agriculture represents one of the most relevant pressures which generate impacts in alluvial aquifers by means of fertilizers and pesticides usage and groundwater overexploitation. Until now, very few studies have addressed the ecological response of groundwater fauna to groundwater contamination and overexploitation due to agricultural practices. We investigated a Mediterranean alluvial aquifer heavily affected by nitrates contamination and groundwater abstraction stress due to crop irrigation. The aim of this study was to evaluate the sensitivity of groundwater communities to (a) groundwater nitrate contamination, (b) groundwater abstraction due to irrigation practices, and (c) saltwater intrusion. The present work suggests that nitrate concentration lower than 150 mg l−1 is not an immediate threat to groundwater biodiversity in alluvial aquifers. This conclusion must be carefully considered in the light of the total lack of knowledge of the effects of long-term nitrate pollution on the groundwater biota. Moreover, local extinctions of less tolerant species, prior to monitoring, cannot be ruled out. Conversely, species abundances in ground water are affected by groundwater withdrawal, but species richness may be less sensitive. This result is attributable to the disappearance of saturated microhabitats and to the depletion of fine unconsolidated sediments, reducing the surface available to bacterial biofilm, which represent the trophic resource for several groundwater invertebrates and where the main aquifer self-purification processes, such as denitrification, take place. Saltwater intrusion seems not to affect groundwater species at the values measured in this coastal aquifer.


alluvial aquifersgroundwaterstygobiontnitrateoverexploitation