Endangered Means There's Still Time !

The survival of particular ecosystems such as woods, wetlands, springs and different subterranean environments mainly depends on their biodiversity, variety of plants, animals, and habitats, as well as the many interactions among the species: the removal, reduction or disappearance of one or more animal or vegetal species may irreversibly damage the natural ecosystems leading to their progressive decline.

At present most human activities tend to change the ecological stability or promote fragmentation of natural and often species-rich environments, this proceeding particularly involving small, isolated populations which are more sensitive than larger connected ones to demographic or environmental factors. The risks of this kind of distribution patterns may be compounded by other external threats, such as excess exploitation, introduced predators, pollution or stochastic events whose impact could be increased by human activities.

Groundwater environments are precious resources for a number of vital functions, such as economical, industrial and agricultural water supply, and about 80% of the World inhabitants are dependent on this resource for their water different supplies. Subterranean aquifers are stored as large reservoirs in the porous underground: the vital function of these reservoirs are at present time strongly threatened by the effects of pollution and overexploitation. Ground waters are not only reservoirs but also ecological systems: they are inhabitated, along with microorganisms and protozoans, by a rich and diverse fauna, which cooperate in keeping the groundwater bearing strata clean of organic particles entering the groundwater from the soil or surface waters.

Groundwater quality of many european countries, Italy included, is at present affected by intrusive use of chemical substances, pesticides and fertilizers, garden chemicals, accidental or intentional dumping of toxic substances, sewage contamination and absorption from septic tanks, land application of hazardous waste or illegal species collecting. Many cave or subterranean freshwater aquatic species (eg. fishes, amphibians and most crustaceans) have very restricted ranges, perhaps consisting of a single cave or aquifer, and very limited opportunities for dispersal, depending on the surrounding geomorphology and the relative morphology of the water system occupied: consequently, they are strongly affected by even moderate environmental changes or pollution, in some cases, the longitudinal distribution of several interstitial (hyporheic) species is highly affected by the distance to water discharge, as well as low or medium concentration of nitrite, nitrate, sulphate and ammonia.

Because of the extreme isolation, uniqueness and hard conditions of the groundwater environments, animals living in subterranean habitats of Italy, especially stygobitic specialists, are rare, in most cases they are endemic or restricted to very small areas. Most species are believed to be threatened primarly by degraded groundwater quality as a result of different sources such as application of agricultural and residential pesticides, fertilizers in subterranean streams or caves recharge areas, and contamination from human and animal waste, and they merit threatened or endangered status at different levels.

The more worrisome situations are in both inland and costal (anchialine) caves and phreatic environments. At present, notwithstanding WWF-Italy, Bioitaly, APE (Appennino Parco d'Europa), and other governative or private istitutions are actively promoting interventions to catalogue and protect the natural environments of Italy, the subterranean aquifers of this country are not holded in due consideration, and their groundwater biota are still greatly endangered, most species being threatened as well as they are facing an extremely high risk of extintion in the immediate future!

Most endangered italian areas are the Po, Arno and Tevere hyporheic basins, the north-east karst region, and the karst aquifers of south Italy (Salentine Peninsula), Sicily and Sardinia. In the above areas numerous karst ecosystems, phreatic habitats, springs and caves, such as “Buso della rana” (Vicenza, north Italy), Mugnone river basin (Tuscany), Pescara springs (L’Aquila, central Italy), “Grotte di Stiffe” (L’Aquila, central Italy), “Grotta dell’Arco” (Rome, central Italy), Grotta di Pertosa” and “Grotta di Castelcivita” (Salerno, south Italy), “Grotta di S. Pietro”, “Grotta di Nettuno” and “Grotta su Coloru” (Sardinia), anchyaline systems of Porto Palo (Sicily) and the Zinzulusa, Buca dei Diavoli and L’Abisso caves (south Italy) are variously threatened by turism, agriculture and urbanization, nearness of hydro-electric reservoirs, as well as invasion of alien species and carelessness cavers who often are aware of the presence of rare, often single species, in the above environments. Locally, as in central Apennines, the tunnels recently escavated under the “Gran Sasso” mountain, are determining the sinking of a rich phreatic network and, as a consequence, the impoverishment of the surrounding small springs and their remarkable fauna, which include several rare and endemic species.

As a proof of the present high threatening of the italian subterranean ecosystems, the Zinzulusa cave has been recently included in the “Ten Most Endangered Karst Communities for 1999“ by the Karst Water Institute since, notwhistanding it probably arbors the most diverse and rich cave animal fauna in Europe (more than 50 stygobitic or stygophilic taxa, most endemic and of ancient lineage), is at present strongly polluted from urban discharge, waters threatens the cave as do tourists who litter and destroy natural formations mainly near the entrance of the cave. The fauna of this remarkable cave, which could be considered a remarkable biodiversity “hot spot”, is certainly vulnerable and protection requires habitat preservation as well as conservation of the associate epigean habitat.

Unfortunately, most suberranean fauna is not taken in account in the existing european and italian protection laws, as well as the relative “Red Lists” are not updated and in strong need of revision. At present only France and Spain, following the Recommendation n. 36 (1992) on the conservation of the underground habitat from the Council of Europe, are actively engaged in the conservation of the underground habitat, a project of natural Reserve for conservation of all habitat types and all red list species present in Spain and a French Pyrenean department (Ariege) is in route by the French "Ministere de l'Environnement".

At present time 60 groundwater (caves and phreatic habitats) inhabitant species, all crustaceans, could be classified as variously threatened or endangered in Italy, and among these most are stygobitic specialists or eustygophilic taxa, of remarkable scientific interest, and belonging to different IUCN categories (VU D1 D2, EW; EN A2 B1 C2, CR Ae, LR1 LR2); most of them, on account of the restriction of their area or the few known localities, fit the Red List category VU D.

The copepods are the most numerous; of the more than 150 subterranean species and subspecies presently known from Italy, only 37 are 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. But the above number is surely underestimated since more, also non-crustacean, taxa could be added to the list in the categories “Data deficient” (DD) or “Near Threatened” (NT), as well as in other categories, since at present time there are no adequate data to make an assessment of their risk of extintion, or they do not qualify for conservation dependent, but are close to qualifying for vulnerable. Therefore, it is imperative to know the updated conditions of all the above taxa, as well as to taken necessary and opportune measures in order to stop and reverse their negative trend.

Structure of the threatened categories according to the IUCN (1999)


Higginsia ciccaresei Pansini & Pesce, 1998 South Italy VU D2


Eucyclops ibleicus Pesce & Galassi, 1987 Sicily EN Ae
Acanthocyclops venustus italicus Pesce & Maggi, 1979 Central Italy CR Ae
Acanthocyclops agamus Kiefer, 1938 South Italy VU D2
Megacyclops brachypus Kiefer, 1954 Sardinia VU D2
Diacyclops crassicaudis cosana Stella & Salvadori, 1954 Central Italy EW
Diacyclops crassicaudis lagrecai Pesce & Galassi, 1987 Sicily EN A2
Diacyclops paolae Pesce & Galassi, 1987 Central Italy VU D2
Diacyclops sardous Pesce & Galassi, 1987 Sardinia CR Ae
Diacyclops ichnusae Pesce & Galassi, 1985 Sardinia VU D2
Microcyclops sanfilippoi Brian, 1951 North Italy EW
Speocyclops franciscoloi (Brian, 1951) North Italy VU D2
Speocyclops sardous Lindberg, 1956 Sardinia VU D2
Metacyclops stammeri Kiefer, 1938 South Italy, Sardinia, Sicily LR 1
Metacyclops gasparoi Stoch, 1987 North Italy VU D2


Psyllocamptus monachus Chappuis, 1938 South Italy EW
Nitocrella stochi Pesce & Galassi, 1986 North Italy VU D2
Nitocrella fedelitae Pesce, 1985 South Italy LR 1
Nitocrella kunzi Galassi & De Laurentiis, 1997 Central Italy EN C2
Nitocrella pescei Galassi & De Laurentiis, 1997 Central Italy EN C2
Moraria michielettoae Brian, 1955 North Italy VU D2
Elaphoidella mabelae Galassi & Pesce, 1991 Central Italy LR 1
Elaphoidella aprutina Pesce, Galassi & Apostolov, 1987 Central Italy LR 1
Elaphoidella cottarellii Pesce & De Laurentiis, 1996 Central Italy LR 1
Ceuthonectes pescei Cottarelli & Saporito, 1985 Sardinia VU D1
Parastenocaris lorenzae Pesce, Galassi & Cottarelli, 1995 Central Italy LR 2
Parastenocaris crenobia Galassi, 1997 Central Italy EN B1
Parastenocaris ruffoi Chappuis, 1954 North Italy LR 2
Parastenocaris kalypso Pesce, Galassi & Cottarelli, 1988 Sicily LR 2
Parastenocaris trinacriae Pesce, Galassi & Cottarelli, 1988 Sicily LR 2
Parastenocaris triphyda Cottarelli & Bruno,1993 Sardinia LR 2
Lessinocamptus caoduroi Stoch, 1997 North Italy VU D2
Lessinocamptus insoletus (Chappuis, 1928) North Italy VU D2
Lessinocamptus pivai Stoch, 1997 North Italy VU D2
Pseudectinosoma kunzi Galassi, 1997 South Italy LR 2
Pseudectinosoma reductum Galassi & De Laurentiis, 1997 Central Italy EN B1
Esola spelaea (Chappuis, 1938) South Italy EW


Troglodiaptomus sketi Petkovski, 1978 North Italy VU D2


Pseudolimnocythere hypogaea Klie, 1938 South Italy VU D2
Trapezicandona stammeri (Klie, 1938) South Italy VU D2
Trapezicandona cottarellii (Danielopol, 1982) Sardinia VU D2
Trapezicandona italica Karanovic & Pesce (in press) South Italy VU D2


Hadzia minuta Ruffo, 1947 South Italy VU D2
Hadzia fragilis S. Karaman, 1932 North Italy VU D2
Metahadzia adriatica Pesce, 1979 South Italy VU D2
Metaingolfiella mirabilis Ruffo, 1969 South Italy EW
Salentinella gracillima Ruffo, 1947 South Italy EN C2
Carinurella paradoxa (Sket, 1964) North Italy VU D2
Niphargus duplus Karaman, 1976 North Italy VU D2
Niphargus italicus Karaman, 1976 North Italy VU D2
Niphargus pescei Karaman, 1984 North Italy VU D2
Niphargus microcerberus Sket, 1972 North Italy VU D2
Ilvanella inexpectata Vigna Taglianti, 1972 Central Italy (Elba Island) VU D2


Stygiomysis hydruntina Caroli, 1937 South Italy CR D
Spelaeomysis bottazzii Caroli, 1924 South Italy VU D2


Asellus cavernicolus (Racovitza, 1925) North Italy VU D2
Microcharon arganoi Pesce & Tetè, 1978 South Italy EW


Monodella argentarii Stella, 1951 Central Italy VU D2
Monodella stygicola Ruffo, 1949 South Italy CR D


Sardobathynella cottarellii Serban, 1973 Sardinia VU D2
Bathynella lombardica Serban, 1973 North Italy VU D2
Bathynella ruffoi Serban, 1973 North Italy VU D2


Thyphlocaris salentina Caroli, 1923 South Italy VU D2

Other ground waters dwelling taxa, such as Oligochaetes, Stenasellid Isopods, Water Mites and Amphibians, are not yet evaluated (category NE) since no information is at present available for their threatened status.

Newsletter of the Endangered Species Program
Endangered and Extinct World Species List
Endangered and Extinct U.S.A. Species List
IUCN - The World Conservation Union
Endangered Australian Animals
1996 IUCN Red List of Threatned Animals
1999 IUCN Red List Criteria review and Recommendations

The world Conservation Union - IUCN
AMMAN 2000
World Conservation Congress
Amman, Jordan, October 4-11, 2000


Thanks to Janet W. Reid and Fabio Stoch for collaboration and assistance