1. Estimates of species richness obtained from exhaustive field inventories over large spatial scales are expensive and time-consuming. For this reason, efficiency demands the use of indicators as ‘surrogates’ of species richness. Biodiversity indicators are defined herein as a limited suite of taxonomic groups the species richness of which is correlated with the species richness of all other taxonomic groups present in the survey area. 2. Species richness in ground water was assessed at different spatial scales using data collected from six regions in Europe. In total, 375 stygobiotic species were recorded across 1157 sites and 96 aquifers. The taxonomic groups collected from more than one site and with more than two species (Oligochaeta, Gastropoda, Cyclopoida, Harpacticoida, Ostracoda, Isopoda, Amphipoda, Bathynellacea and Acari) were used to develop nonparametric models to predict stygobiotic biodiversity at the aquifer scale. 3. Pair-wise correlations between taxonomic groups were low, i.e. variation in species richness of a single taxonomic group did not usually reflect variation of the other groups. In contrast, multiple regressions calculated between species richness of any combination of taxa and extra-group species richness along the six regions resulted in a number of significant relationships. 4. These results suggest that some taxonomic groups (mainly Copepoda and Amphipoda and, to a lesser extent, Oligochaeta and Gastropoda) combined in different ways across the regions, were good biodiversity indicators in European groundwater ecosystems. However, the uneven distribution of taxonomic groups prevented selection of a common set of indicators for all six regions. Faunal differences among regions are presumably related to both historical and ecological factors, including palaeogeography, palaeoecology, geology, aquifer fragmentation and isolation, and, less clearly, anthropogenic disturbance.
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