This paper examines the biodiversity patterns of natural springs across three large hydrogeological units of the central Apennines (central Italy). The biological dataset obtained was analysed by selecting the free-living Copepoda, the most species-rich group among the meiofaunal components of the springs in the study area. The analyses performed focused on distribution patterns and the prevailing factors that may determine such distributions at the scale of the spring site as well as at the wider, hydrogeological scale of the entire region. The taxonomic distinctness of the communities found was also evaluated, in order to integrate the mere species counts with additional information on the relatedness of the taxa in copepod assemblages, with the aim of obtaining a more exhaustive assessment of the aspects of the biodiversity found. Copepod diversity in the various springs did not result in an evenly distributed pattern among spring sites and the larger hydrogeological units. Low-altitude karstic springs were the most diverse in terms of species richness, and showed the highest values of taxonomic distinctness measured for the whole area. Conversely, high-altitude springs from geological formations of both sandstone and limestone were species-poor, and with relatively similar copepod assemblages.
The observed differences in composition of the communities among springs and hydrogeological units are discussed under the perspective of the potential of planning freshwater conservation measures.