Shedding light on the hidden world of subterranean fauna: A transdisciplinary research approach

Lesley Gibson, William F. Humphreys, Mark Harvey, Bridget Hyder, Andrew Winzer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Subterranean environments contain a diverse and unique obligate fauna: either aquatic living in the groundwater or terrestrial living in voids above the water table. In the arid region of the western part of the Australian continent, a particularly rich subterranean fauna coincides with a concentration of natural resource extraction operations. Since the inclusion of subterranean fauna in assessments of environmental impact in the mid-1990s, taxonomic research in Australia on this group of mainly invertebrates has grown exponentially. However, remaining knowledge gaps continue to frustrate both environmental regulators and development proponents due to high uncertainty in the decision-making process. In early 2017, the Western Australian Biodiversity Science Institute was tasked with leading the development of a research program to improve on the current state of knowledge of subterranean fauna. To balance the diverse environmental, economic and social needs of a range of stakeholders, transdisciplinary principles were applied to program development. A clear consensus on five broad focus areas to progress include: (1) data consolidation; (2) resilience to disturbance; (3) survey and sampling protocols; (4) abiotic and biotic habitat requirements; and (5) species delineation. In the context of these focus areas; we describe the research program development, reviewing the status of knowledge within each focus area, and the research initiatives to close the gaps in knowledge. We argue that, by adopting a transdisciplinary approach, the likelihood of success of the research program, as measured by the effective translation and adoption of research findings, will be maximized. This review is timely given the ever-increasing demand on groundwater systems for water extraction worldwide. A holistic understanding of the influence of anthropogenic activities on these ecosystems, and the functional role of organisms within them, will help to ensure that their health is not compromised.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)381-389
Number of pages9
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sept 2019


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