A strange, endangered ecosystem lurks in underground waterways

India’s Western Ghats – a mountain range that runs along the country’s southwestern coast – could also be in trouble. The Western Ghats are home to a variety of unusual underground freshwater fish, including the dragon snakehead, which looks like an armored eel and may represent a relic population that has existed for hundreds of years. million years. However, the area is also densely populated, putting enormous pressure on its aquifers. By 2050, more than 80 million people may not have enough water.

Invasive species pose other threats, such as the catfish or tilapia in the Western Ghats and the American swamp crayfish in Europe, which have invaded wells and caves.

Groundwater ecosystems also face pollution. Some are accidental contamination from mining spoils or agricultural fertilizers. And some are on purpose, like in Slovenia, where a capacitor factory has been disposing of toxic waste over the past two decades by simply dumping it into sinkholes, contaminating our habitats. olm, or in India, where it is common to use chemicals to disinfect wells.

In some cases, Laws and lawsuits have forced the conservation of at least some species of stygofauna. Barton Springs Pool is a deep, cold, watered recreational pool near downtown Austin and has been a popular swimming spot for over a century. (Long before the pool was built, the springs themselves were used by the natives.) For a while, the city kept the natural pool in welcoming condition by using intensive cleaning methods such as hot water, high pressure hose, and chlorine.

But humans aren’t the only creatures there – deep in the springs that feed the pool are two different species of salamander: the Barton Springs salamander, officially named in 1993, and the blind salamander Austin, discovered in 2001.

In 1992, the citizens of Austin passed an ordinance restricting development in loading areas and limiting pollution in springs. That year, the city also stopped using chlorine to control algae at the pool. After the federal government designated the Barton Springs salamander as endangered under the Endangered Species Act of 1997, other practices were changed to protect the salamander. Today, under an agreement with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the city can still use the pool for swimming and can clean it up (albeit with less destructive methods: Pressure washing) high in salamander habitats and lowering water levels for cleaning is limited). But in return, the city must also help protect the ecosystem.

In 1998, as part of that defense, Austin launched a captive breeding program of salamanders. Currently, a captive population of about 240 Barton Springs salamanders and about 50 Austin blind salamanders live inside a small facility a few minutes from the springs.

Dee Ann Chamberlain, an environmental scientist and program leader, said: “Our whole goal, and it’s a fairly standard goal for captive breeding programmes, is to maintain 90% genetic diversity in a hundred years.

In addition to allowing the study of animals, the program also provides a backup safety system in the event of a disaster. Barton Springs relies on water entering the aquifer and flowing from the surface through adjacent areas known as recharge zones. For example, a nearby chemical spill from a crashed tanker truck or industrial accident could spell disaster for the salamander.

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