Historical loss of groundwater-dependent terrestrial ecosystems in undrained and artificially drained landscapes in Denmark

Gasper L. Sechu, Bertel Nilsson, Bo V. Iversen, Mette B. Greve, Mogens H. Greve

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Groundwater-dependent terrestrial ecosystems (GWDTE) have been increasingly under threat due to groundwater depletion globally. Over the past 200 years, there has been severe artificial drainage of low-lying areas in Denmark, leading to a gradual loss of GWDTE nature habitat areas. This study explores the spatial-temporal loss of Danish GWDTE using historical topographic maps. We carry out geographic information systems (GIS) overlap analysis between different historical topographic maps with signatures of GWDTE starting from the 19th century up to a present-day river valley bottom map. We then examine the changes in two protected GWDTE habitat types in different periods and hydrologic spatial locations. Results reveal a decrease in the area of GWDTE over the last 200 years. We attribute this to different human interventions, e.g., drainage, that have impacted the low-lying landscape since the early Middle Ages. We further conclude that downstream parts of the river network have been exposed to less GWDTE habitat loss than upstream ones. This indicates that upstream river valleys are more vulnerable to GWDTE decline. Therefore, as a management measure, caution should be exercised when designing these areas for agriculture activities using artificial drainage and groundwater abstraction, since this may lead to further decline. In contrast, there is a higher potential for establishing constructed wetlands or rewetting peatlands to restore balance.

Original languageEnglish
Article number946
Number of pages18
JournalWater (Switzerland)
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023


  • geographic information system
  • groundwater-dependent terrestrial ecosystems
  • mapping
  • river valley bottom

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 2: Water Resources


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