In the last years pollution of ground water ecosystems is becoming a serious problem in several italian regions and, in spite of their remarkable scientific and economical importance, underground fresh and coastal biological resources of the country are declining at a very fast rate.
Several forces are swiftly producing impoverishment or disappearance of aquatic communities with great economic and scientific value.These include the The intrusive proliferation of agriculture and pastoral activities, chemical manifacturers and petroleum refineries, which discharge their waste in large and small aquatic reservoirs of the country. There are also high levels of pollution along the Mediterranean coasts, particularly those related to smaller basins such as the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, as well as pollution of costal caves, including anchialine caves.
At present, the most endangered aquifers arein the Po, Arno and Tevere rivers basins, the north-east karst region, and the karst of south Italy (Salentine Peninsula), Sicily and Sardinia. In these regions the karstic biota, phreatic and hyporheic habitats, springs and caves are particularly threatened and detailed conservation measures are necessary for their protection and for assessing preservation priorities:
These ecosystems are variously threatened by turism, agriculture and urbanization, proximity to hydro-electric constructions, invasion of alien species and the carelessness of cavers who often are unaware of the presence of rare, often the only known population of particular species, in these environments. In some cases, the impact of stochastic events on habitat can affect populations or subpopulations with a limited distribution in the same areas.
Locally, the tunnels recently escavated under the "Gran Sasso" mountain in the Central Apennines, are causing the lowereing of a rich phreatic watertable complex and consequently the impoverishment of the surrounding small springs and their remarkable fauna, which include several interesting, rare and endemic species. Unevaluated and extensive sedimentations and landslips in northwestern and southern Italy, resulting from dams and hydroelectric reservoirs, have disturbed, and continue to disturbe, large reas, as well as the local ecosystems and fauna.
As an example of present threats to the italian subterranean ecosystems and fauna , Zinzulusa cave has been recently included in the "Ten Most Endangered Karst Communities for 1999" by the Karst Water Institute. Although this cave probably arbors the most rich and diverse cave animal fauna in Europe (more than 60 stygobitic or stygophilic taxa, most endemic and of ancient lineage), is at present seriously polluted from urban discharge. Waters also threatens the cave as do tourists who litter and destroy natural formations mainly near the cave entrance.
Moreover, guano mining in the past removed an already limited energy resource for the communities living in this cave.
The fauna of this exstraordinary cave is certainly vulnerable, and its protection requires habitat preservation as well as conservation of the associate epigean habitat. since, as in most karstic situations, protection of surface environments may be the key to the conservation of groundwater ecosystems.
Unfortunately, most subterranean fauna is not taken into account in the existing laws affecting environmental protection in Italy. Moreover, the relevant Red Lists are in great need of updating and revision.
As regard copepods, of the more than 150 subterranean species and subspecies presently known from Italy, only 37 could be classified as threatened in that country. Most of these are stygobitic or eustygophilic taxa, of remarkable scientific interest, and belong to different IUCN categories; most of them, on account of the restriction of their area or the few known localities, fit the Red List category VU D (Vulnerable, restricted area).
But this number is certainly a minimum estimate , since more taxa could be added to the list in the categories "Data deficient" or "Near Threatened", since there are no adequate data to assess their risk of extintion, or they do not qualify as conservation-dependent, but are close to qualifying as vulnerable.
Therefore, it is imperative to know the present status of these taxa , obtain more information to determine their appropriate listing, and to implement necessary and opportune studies.