Galassi, D.M.R., Fiasca, B., Di Lorenzo, T., Porfirio, S., Montanari, S. & Fattorini, S. (2017) Groundwater biodiversity in a chemoautotrophic cave ecosystem: how geochemistry regulates microcrustacean community structure.Aquatic Ecology, 51(1), 75-90. DOI:10.1007/s10452-016-9599-7 (IF2017 1,978; Q2 Marine & Freshwater Biology)
The Frasassi cave system in central Italy hosts one of the few known examples of a groundwater metazoan community that is supported by sulfur-based lithoautotrophic microbes. Despite the challenging conditions represented by high concentrations of H2S and low concentrations of O2, this cave system is home to many invertebrate species. Here, we analyzed the copepods inhabiting sulfidic lakes and non-sulfidic dripping pools in order to investigate how environmental conditions in sulfidic waters regulate the spatial distribution of the cave microcrustacean community over time. We also sampled copepod assemblages of sulfidic lakes under conditions of both high and low H2S concentration. Cluster analysis and canonical correspondence analysis separated the copepod assemblages inhabiting dripping pools from those of sulfidic lakes. H2S concentration, pH and O2 concentration were identified as the main factors regulating community structure. These results indicate that the distribution of groundwater copepods within the cave system is ecologically and spatially structured. Sulfidic lakes showed lower Simpson dominance, higher Shannon diversity and higher Pielou equitability at higher H2S concentrations. The complex community structure of the copepods of the Frasassi cave system suggests that a chemosynthetically produced food source facilitated the colonization of stygobionts in sulfidic groundwater due to their tolerance to the environmental conditions.