Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Springs and springs-dependent taxa of the Colorado River basin, southwestern North America: geography, ecology and human impacts.

Abstract

The Colorado River basin (CRB), the primary water source for southwestern North America, is divided into the 283,384 km2, water-exporting Upper CRB (UCRB) in the Colorado Plateau geologic province, and the 344,440 km2, water-receiving Lower CRB (LCRB) in the Basin and Range geologic province. Long-regarded as a snow melt-fed river system, approximately half of the river's baseflow is derived from groundwater, much of it through springs. CRB springs are important for biota, culture, and the economy, but are highly threatened by a wide array of anthropogenic factors. We used existing literature, available databases, and field data to synthesize information on the distribution, ecohydrology, biodiversity, status, and potential socio-economic impacts of 20,872 reported CRB springs in relation to permanent stream distribution, human population growth, and climate change. CRB springs are patchily distributed, with highest density in montane and cliff-dominated landscapes. Mapping data quality is highly variable and many springs remain undocumented. Most CRB springs-influenced habitats are small, with a highly variable mean area of 2200 m2, generating an estimated total springs habitat area of 45.4 km2 (0.007% of the total CRB land area). Median discharge also is generally low and variable (0.10 L/s, N = 1687, 95% CI = 0.04 L/s), but ranges up to 1800 L/s. Water pH and conductivity is negatively related to elevation, with a stronger negative relationship in the UCRB compared to the LCRB. Natural springs water temperature and geochemistry throughout the CRB varies greatly among springs, but relatively little within springs, and depends on aquifer hydrogeology, elevation, and residence time. As the only state nearly entirely included within the CRB, Arizona is about equally divided between the two geologic provinces. Arizona springs produce approximately 0.6 km3/year of water. Data on >330 CRB springs-dependent taxa (SDT) revealed at least 62 plant species; 216 aquatic and riparian Mollusca, Hemiptera, Coleoptera, and other invertebrate taxa; several herpetofanual species; and two-thirds of 35 CRB fish taxa. Springs vegetation structure, composition, and diversity vary strongly by springs type, and plant species density within springs is high in comparison with upland habitats. Plant species richness and density is negatively related to elevation below 2500 m. Human population in and adjacent to the CRB are growing rapidly, and ecological impairment of springs exceeds 70% in many landscapes, particularly in urbanized and rangeland areas. Anthropogenic stressors are primarily related to groundwater depletion and pollution, livestock management, flow abstraction, non-native species introduction, and recreation. Ensuring the ecological integrity and sustainability of CRB groundwater supplies and springs will require more thorough basic inventory, assessment, research, information management, and local ecosystem rehabilitation, as well as improved groundwater and springs conservation policy.