Springs ecosystem distribution and density for improving stewardship

Katie Junghans, Abraham E Springer, Lawrence E. Stevens, Jeri D. Ledbetter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Springs support some of the most diverse and unique ecosystems on Earth, but their stewardship has been hindered by the lack of knowledge of the distribution and density of springs across landscapes. Death Valley National Park (DEVA) and the State of Arizona in the USA are 2 landscapes for which significant knowledge exists about the distribution and density of springs. We used data on springs in DEVA to test the application of accumulation curves for estimating spring density. We used a spring-specific database in Arizona as an example of how to compile geospatial information for a large landscape. In both landscapes, springs are nonrandomly distributed because they emerge in topographically and geologically complex terrain and in clusters of multiple sources. Thus, estimates of their density depend on the spatial scale of inquiry and the extent to which sources are considered independent. For example, based on the current inventory, density in DEVA is estimated to be 0.033 to 0.074 springs/km2 depending on whether springs are defined as individual orifices or as complexes (groups of related spring orifices). The best data for springs as individual orifices yield an estimated 0.035 springs/km2 in Arizona. These densities are based on current data sets, and an unknown number of springs remain unmapped in both landscapes. To predict the total number of springs in DEVA, we used a modified density accumulation curve, involving the number of springs detected in surveys over the past century. The analysis indicated that undocumented springs may exist across the landscape. Knowledge of the distribution and density of the springs can help land and resource managers develop unbiased prioritizations of spring ecosystems for stewardship actions. Management actions could benefit further from an understanding of the emergence environment of a complex of springs, instead of each emergence point of a spring in a complex.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1330-1339
Number of pages10
JournalFreshwater Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2016


  • Accumulation curve
  • Arizona
  • Death valley
  • Distribution
  • Geography
  • Spring ecosystems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Aquatic Science


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