Molecular taxonomy and phylogeography of stygofauna across alluvial and hard-rock groundwater ecosystems in eastern Australia

A project undertaken at the Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University, supervised by Professor Jane Hughes

The fauna inhabiting groundwater systems is eastern Australia are relatively unknown, yet current and future mining activities are likely to have impacts on these ecosystems. This project is using molecular genetic techniques, combined with morphological analyses to investigate the composition and diversity of stygofauna (groundwater-dwelling animals)  in south-east Queensland.  These creatures are often very tiny, but with the help of molecular techniques, we will be able to identify new species and match these with their morphology. We are concentrating on groundwater systems of south-east Queensland, and the Fitzroy and Condamine River Basins where significant resource development activities are occurring.
For selected species (those that we detect from multiple sites), we will also assess the connectivity between populations, using molecular genetic approaches.

The main  aims of the project are:

  1. Assess species diversity and patterns of distribution within key stygofauna groups, such as syncarids, copeopds, isopods and amphipods, in eastern Australia using molecular taxonomic approaches. This will provide insight into patterns of species richness and endemism of stygofauna assemblages in eastern Australia.
  2. Assess phylogenetic and phylogeographic relationships among species within each major group. This will provide insight into the historical biogeography and evolution of biotic diversity within groundwater systems in eastern Australia.
  3. Assess connectivity and gene flow among populations of selected species using population genetic analyses of the DNA data. This will provide insight into the dispersal ability of stygofauna.
  4. Generate species accumulation curves for selected bores to develop guidelines for sampling stygofauna in eastern Australia.
  5. Establish a reference collection of specimens that have been identifed to species using molecular taxonomy and engage taxonomists to commence formal description of new species.

Collaborator: Dr. Ben Cook, FRC Environmental

Figure 1. Sampling stygofauna at a groundwater bore in Queensland using a weighted net