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

Jennifer M. Cartwright, Kathleen A. Dwire, Zach Freed, Samantha J. Hammer, Blair McLaughlin, Louise W. Misztal, Edward R. Schenk, John R. Spence, Abraham E. Springer, Lawrence E. Stevens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)245-253
Number of pages9
JournalFrontiers in Ecology and the Environment
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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