Ecology of Groundwater

This course is part of the programme
Bachelor's programme in Environment (first cycle)

Objectives and competences

• To present to the students two of the most common types of aquifers (karstic and porous) and their physical, chemical and biological characteristics, how endangered they are and what protection measures could be applied there.
• On the basis of their knowledge, the students will be able to recognize the potential negative effects of human activities on aquifers and thus
• Recommend suitable preventive and mitigation actions to minimise negative human activities on aquifers.


Pre-knowledge of hydrology and biology is desired.


The course is devoted to the students who want to get in-deep knowledge on different types of groundwater and their functional connections with adjacent surface and sub-surface terrestrial and aquatic habitats. Most attention will be pay to fissured (karstic) and porous (interstitial) aquifers which are important source for drinking water in Slovenia and worldwide.

- types of groundwater
- sources of water for aquifers
- general characteristics of groundwater
- from groundwater dependant habitats (GWDH)

- parts of karstic environment (aquatic and terrestrial part; epikarstic zone)
- characteristics of water flow in particular zones
- physical and chemical characteristics of karstic water
- organisms and their characteristics in karstic waters

- parts of porous aquifers
- characteristics of water flow in different parts
- physical and chemical characteristics of porous water
- organisms and their characteristics in porous waters

- the most common representatives of subterranean organisms
- distribution of groundwater organisms worldwide
- types of colonization in subterranean environment
- vertical and horizontal distribution of organisms in aquifers
- role of organisms in determination of groundwater quality

5.) SAMPLING METHODS for physical, chemical and biological analyses:
- hand nets
- sacs
- drift nets
- filters
- pumps
- freezer
- automatic measurements (sensors, data-loggers)
- Bou-Rouch method
- Karaman-Chappuis method

- types of threats
- mode of transport of pollutants in different types of aquifers
- methods and measurements for protection of groundwater

Intended learning outcomes

Knowledge and understanding:

The students will get the knowledge and understanding on the structure and function of aquifers with a special emphasis on karstic and porous ones. Both types are an important source for drinking water. Apart from theoretical knowledge, which includes physical and chemical characteristics of both types of aquifers, their connections with surface water bodies as well as living space for specialised subterranean fauna, the students will get the information on the problems of their pollution and the measures for their protection. During the field work they will get experience on equipment and methods used during the research of aquifers as well as their monitoring on chemical and quantitative status.


  • CULVER, D. C. (ur.), WHITE, W. B. (ur.), 2012. Encyclopedia of caves. Amsterdam; Boston. Elsevier: Academic Press. Catalogue E-version
  • GUNN, J. (ur.), 2004. Encyclopedia of caves and karst science. New York; London. Fitzroy Dearborn. Catalogue E-version
  • PASCALIS projekt (2004): Protocols for the assessment and conservation of aquatic life in the subsurface. (
  • GRIEBLER, C. (ur.), DANIELOPOOL, D.L. (ur.), GIBERT, J. (ur.), NACHTNEBEL, H.P. (ur.), NOTENBOOM, J. (ur.), 2001. Groundwater ecology: A tool for management of water resources. European Commision, Environment and climate programme, Directorate-General for Research, Brussels. E-version
  • Selected scientific articles.


Oral presentation (75 %), written report (25 %)

Lecturer's references

Full professor of ecology at the University of Nova Gorica

MORI, N., BRANCELJ, A. Differences in aquatic microcrustacean assemblages between temporary and perennial springs of an alpine karstic aquifer. International journal of speleology, ISSN 0392-6672, 2013, vol. 42, no. 3, str. 257-266, ilustr., doi: 10.5038/1827-806X.42.3.9. [COBISS.SI-ID 2949711]

GALASSI, D. M. P., STOCH, F., BRANCELJ, A.. Dissecting copepod diversity at different spatial scales in southern European groundwater. V: SUAREZ MORALES, Eduardo (ur.). Selected papers presented at the 11th International Conference on Copepoda (Mérida, Mexico, 10-15 July 2011), (Journal of natural history, ISSN 0022-2933, vol. 47, no. 5/12). London: Taylor & Francis, 2013, vol. 47, no. 5/12, str. 821-840., doi: 10.1080/00222933.2012.738834. [COBISS.SI-ID 2731599]

WATIROYRAM, S., BRANCELJ, A., SANOAMUANG, L. A new Bryocyclops Kiefer (Crustacea: Copepoda: Cyclopoida) from karstic caves in Thailand. The Raffles bulletin of zoology, ISSN 0217-2445, 2012, vol. 60, no. 1, str. 11-21. [COBISS.SI-ID 2525263]

BRANCELJ, A., WATIROYRAM, S., SANOAMUANG, . The first record of cave-dwelling Copepoda from Thailand and description of a new species: Elaphoidella namnaoensis n. sp. (Copepoda, Harpacticoida). Crustaceana, ISSN 0011-216X, 2010, vol. 83, no. 7, str. 779-793., doi: 10.1163/001121610X502894. [COBISS.SI-ID 2345295]

BRANCELJ, A. Fauna of an unsaturated karstic zone in Central Slovenia: two new species of Harpacticoida (Crustacea: Copepoda), Elaphoidella millennii n. sp. and E. tarmani n. sp., their ecology and morphological adaptations. Hydrobiologia, ISSN 0018-8158, 2009, vol. 621, no. 1, str. 85-104., doi: 10.1007/s10750-008-9634-3. [COBISS.SI-ID 1933391]

BRANCELJ, A. Microdistribution and high diversity of Copepoda (Crustacea) in a small cave in central Slovenia. Hydrobiologia, ISSN 0018-8158, 2002, letn. 477, str. 59-72. [COBISS.SI-ID 15480537]