School of Science
Coastal groundwater-dependent ecosystems (GDEs), such as wetlands, estuaries and mangrove forests, are globally important habitats that promote biodiversity, provide climate regulation and serve as refugia for plant and animal communities. However, global warming, coastal development and over-abstraction threaten the availability and quality of groundwater in coastal aquifers and, by extension, the ecohydrological function of dependent ecosystems. Because ecohydrological knowledge of coastal groundwater is disparate across disciplines and habitat types, we begin by summarising the physiochemical, biological and hydrological processes supported by groundwater across coastal watersheds. Groundwater makes a significant but poorly recognised contribution to the function and resilience of coastal ecosystems and will play an essential role in climate change mitigation and adaptation. This review then explores how critical ecosystem processes supported by groundwater will be affected in areas of the humid subtropics that are expected to be impacted by climatic drying. Where rainfall is predicted to decrease, reduced groundwater recharge will interrupt the hydrology of coastal GDEs, while anthropogenic pressures, such as land-use intensification and pollution, will diminish the quality of remaining groundwater. The challenges of managing groundwater for multiple purposes under climate change predictions are highlighted. To improve the management of coastal GDEs, research should be aimed at developing robust conceptual models of coastal groundwater systems that quantify biophysical linkages with ecological communities across relevant spatiotemporal scales.
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