Improved methods to detect and protect arid-zone groundwater-dependent ecosystems

Project start date: 01/04/2024
Project end date: 30/06/2027
NESP funding: $770,000 (GST-exclusive)

Australia’s deserts have some of the world’s most variable rainfall patterns, and climate change is likely to make them even more spatially and temporally inconsistent. Because of this uncertainty, consistent sources of water are vital refuges in arid environments.

Groundwater-dependent ecosystems are supported by water on or near the surface which is supplied by groundwater systems. They provide critical habitat and support biodiversity in otherwise dry areas and are often areas of cultural importance for Traditional Owners.

Blanche Cup Mound Spring is in Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park, SA, is a groundwater-dependant ecosystem. Photo: Don Shearman CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
Blanche Cup Mound Spring is in Wabma Kadarbu Mound Springs Conservation Park in northern South Australia. Photo: Don Shearman CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Increased investment in agriculture and other developments which place high demands on water resources in semi-arid and arid zones could potentially place groundwater-dependent ecosystems at risk, if they’re inappropriately managed. It is vitally important that water management practices across Australia’s arid areas are informed by an in-depth understanding of the ecology, hydrology and socio-cultural values associated with these ecosystems and the potential risks from water extraction.

This project is combining Indigenous knowledge, remotely sensed data, hydrogeological information and ecological field surveys to improve methods for detecting and mapping groundwater-dependent ecosystems across the arid zones of central Australia.

We are helping to assess the risks of water extraction on flora, fauna and socio-cultural values, and monitoring changes in their extent and condition.

Key research areas

To help inform the sustainable management of groundwater-dependent ecosystems, this project is:

  • documenting Indigenous groundwater knowledge and values relating to groundwater-dependent ecosystems and the wider cultural landscape
  • refining remote sensing tools to identify and monitor arid-zone groundwater-dependent ecosystems
  • assessing groundwater dependence using stable isotopic and plant physiological metrics
  • mapping and risk-assessing arid-zone terrestrial and aquatic groundwater-dependent ecosystems.