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Dark Estuaries: Mapping coastal aquifer biodiversity in a changing world


Subterranean estuaries extend inland into coastal aquifers inhabited by a surprising diversity of subterranean animals with peculiar ecological and evolutionary features. How complex ecosystems thrive in this globally distributed habitat in different hydrological and geological settings is poorly understood. This study aims to integrate a novel global database of subterranean fauna with existing geochemical data and high-resolution hydrogeology maps of the world’s aquifers, using modern statistical and modelling methods, to achieve an integrated understanding of the drivers of biodiversity in coastal aquifers and their response to global environmental change. Indeed, coastal aquifers connect the world’s oceanic and hydrologic ecosystems and provide water source for more than one billion people in coastal regions, but these habitats are among those most prone to the long-term effects of climate change and human population growth. Therefore, expected outcomes of the study will contribute to the increasing efforts to discover, describe, and sustain groundwater-dependent ecosystems and to identify biological communities that could serve as indicators of the health of groundwater resources. To achieve these goals, a holistic approach is proposed that bridges scientific disciplines across ecology and geosciences. The project also targets to build the foundation for my long-term plans, that is, to reintegrate in Europe and establish myself as a leading expert in the emerging field of Earth System Ecology. Ensuring success, I will be supervised by host Diego Fontaneto, an expert in ecology, evolution, and large-scale patterns of biodiversity of microscopic animals at the Water Research Institute of CNR in Italy. Moreover, I will benefit from interactions with secondment-host Nils Moosdorf, who has expertise in aquifer hydrogeology, data-driven geoscience, and mega-scale hydrological modelling, at the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research in Germany.

Call for proposal

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Funding Scheme

MSCA-IF-EF-RI - RI – Reintegration panel


Piazzale Aldo Moro 7
00185 Roma
Activity type
Research Organisations
EU contribution
€ 183 473,28