Water Library

Oases of the future? Springs as potential hydrologic refugia in drying climates

Natural springs in water‐limited landscapes are biodiversity hotspots and keystone ecosystems that have a disproportionate influence on surrounding landscapes despite their usually small size. Some springs served as evolutionary refugia during previous climate drying, supporting relict species in isolated habitats. Understanding whether springs will provide hydrologic refugia from future climate change is important to biodiversity conservation but is complicated by hydrologic variability among springs, data limitations, and multiple non‐climate threats to groundwater‐dependent ecosystems. We present a conceptual framework for categorizing springs as potentially stable, relative, or transient hydrologic refugia in a drying climate. Clues about the refugial capacity of springs can be assembled from various approaches, including citizen‐science‐powered ecohydrologic monitoring, remote sensing, landowner interviews, and environmental tracer analysis. Managers can integrate multiple lines of evidence to predict which springs may become future refugia for species of concern, strengthening the long‐term effectiveness of their conservation and restoration, and informing climate adaptation for terrestrial and freshwater species. 

  • Recommended Citation: Cartwright, J. M., K. A. Dwire, Z. Freed, S. Hammer, B. McLaughlin, L. W. Misztal, E. R. Schenk, J. R. Spence, A. E. Springer, L. E. Stevens. 2020. Oases of the future? Springs as potential hydrologic refugia in drying climates. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 18 (5): 245-253. https://doi.org/10.1002/fee.2191
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Springs in the Sky Island Region: Inventory, Assessment, and Management Planning Project (Cienega Creek Groundwater Basin)

This report details the methodology and results of Sky Island Alliance’s two year project to inventory and assess springs in the Cienega Creek Basin, and to make newly collected and previously existing assessment information from various cooperating agencies available by helping to bring the Spring Stewardship Institute’s Springs Inventory Database online. Report materials include an analysis of the state of springs in the Cienega Creek Basin, spring inventory information for each spring surveyed, and information on the online database. 

  • Appendix A: Springs Inventory and Assessment Protocols
  • Appendix B: Spring Inventory Reports
  • Appendix C: Springs Adaptation Plan for the Sky Island Region
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Arizona Springs Restoration Handbook

This handbook was co-produced with the Springs Stewardship Institute. With support from the Desert Landscape Conservation Cooperative. This handbook is meant to advance the understanding of springs by land managers in the state of Arizona,as well as promote communication, stewardship, and collaboration, and to provide guidance to land managers embarking on springs stewardship programs. It provides resource managers with background information regarding the nature of springs ecosystems, inventory and assessment protocols, and the tools necessary for effective restoration and monitoring. Our springs inventory, assessment, and stewardship protocols incorporates much previous research and practical, hands-on recommendations. Land managers across Arizona can use this handbook to set measurable goals in their springs stewardship and restoration plans, and implement effective actions towards those goals.

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Fire and Water: Assessing Spring Ecosystems and Adapting Management to Respond to Climate Change

This report details the methodology and results of Sky Island Alliance’s two year project to inventory and assess springs in the Upper Santa Cruz River Basin, assess impacts of fire on spring ecosystems, develop a volunteer-based Adopt-A-Spring program to monitor springs, develop an Arizona Springs Restoration Handbook and to develop guidance and strategies to reduce vulnerability of springs to climate change. Report materials include an analysis of the state of springs in the Upper Santa Cruz Basin, an analysis of fire impacts at springs, spring inventory information for each spring surveyed, and management recommendations for springs affected by fire.

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