Groundwater-dependent ecosystem dynamics in transboundary aquifer settings - a case study in the Tuli-Karoo aquifer

Knowledge of the nature and extent of groundwater-dependent ecosystems (GDE) at an aquifer scale enables incorporating ecological water requirements in integrated groundwater resource management activities, including transboundary aquifer cases (TBA). This way, sustainable groundwater management and functional ecosystem services can be achieved. Therefore, understanding groundwater- ecosystems-surface water interactions is crucial for assessing resources’ resilience or susceptibility towards certain impacts. Unfortunately, this subject is widely under-researched with fragmented information, especially in southern Africa. This study was thus initiated to understand groundwater processes controlling the maintenance of Tuli-Karoo TBA (Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe) GDEs towards developing a model that can be utilised in impact assessments, especially in climate change. The employed approach included stable isotope analysis (mainly 2 H and 18O) for groundwater, streams, springs, rainwater, vegetation, and soil; spatial imagery and GIS classification (incl. NDVI, NDRE, NDWI); and plant moisture stress techniques. Identified GDEs in the study area (characterized by intergranular alluvium aquifer underlain by the Karoo sandstone of intergranular and fractured secondary aquifer type) are riparian vegetation, floodplain and depression wetlands, and springs. Precipitation recharged alluvium aquifer’s contribution to Limpopo River baseflow is negligible as the discharge is mainly through springs and evapotranspiration. Monitoring data scarcity and skewed availability among sharing countries hamper research and its output applicability to TBA’s entirety. Therefore, data generation, exchange, and joint databases development are crucial for sustainable comanagement of groundwater and supported ecosystems and science-based decision-making.

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South Africa
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