Journal Article

Groundwater calcrete aquifers in the Australian arid zone: the context to an unfolding plethora of stygal biodiversity

Humphreys, W.R.

Record Number:
4314
Year:
2001
Journal:
Records of the Western Australian Museum Supplement
Pages:
63-83
Volume:
64
Abstract:
Abstract - The Western Shield of Australia has been above sea level since the Palaeozoic. It is incised by ancient palaeovalieys now containing groundwater calcretes that are found throughout much of arid Australia. The calcretes are deposited, owing to surface evaporation, from a groundwater flow path that increases in salinity from fresh to hypersaline groundwater each terminating at a salt lake (playa). The calcrete aquifers contain a diverse obligate groundwater fauna (stygofauna: predominantly Crustacea) in one of the oldest non-marine landscapes on Earth. Each of the 11 calcrete areas examined so far contains a unique fauna; there are over 210 large discrete calcrete bodies in the Western Australian arid zone. This paper examines a working hypothesis that the stygofauna became isolated in the upper tributaries of the palaeodrainage systems by the progressive upstream movement of salinity from the Eocene onwards. Although each calcrete body does have a unique fauna, as predicted by the hypothesis, the hypothesis has proved too simple because the hydrochemical cycles are repeated along the length of the palaeochannels, each terminating in a saltlake immediately downflow of the calcrete. A new hypothesis has to incorporate these intervals of hypersaline groundwater / calcrete discontinuities acting as barriers to dispersal of the stygofauna. The paper focuses on the geological and landscape setting, and the hydrochemical and groundwater context in which this stygal diversity is found. It is intended to serve as a background resource for further work on this diverse stygofauna. A synopsis is provided of the knowledge of this stygofauna. The presence of such highly diverse and locally endemic stygofauna, often ancient relictual lineages, in a major economic resource within arid Australia poses delicate and chalienging conservation issues. At the same time the scientific challenge is considerable to understand the development and functioning of these systems in order that they can be managed sustainably.
Times Cited:
3
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