The Critical Nature of Springs

Fig. 1: Survey of Lockwood Spring, Coconino National Forest, Arizona

Springs ecosystems are among the most biologically and culturally diverse and productive habitats. Yet they are poorly understood, are afforded little protection, and are among the most threatened ecosystems on Earth. Despite their relatively small size, springs support at least 10% of the endangered animals in the United States, as well as an untold thousands of rare or highly restricted species. Toward the goal of developing a global initiative to improve springs stewardship, we have developed a methodology for inventory and assessment of the ecological health and functionality of these fragile resources.

A comprehensive evaluation requires a survey of geomorphology, soils, geology, solar radiation, flora, fauna, water quality, flow, and georeferencing, as well as a thorough assessment of the site’s condition and risks. The information we collect in each category is extremely complex, and many of the data are interrelated. For example, water quality is linked to flow, geology, geomorphology, soils, flora, and fauna. To address this complexity, we designed a relational database that provides a framework to compile this information and to analyze biological, physical, and cultural relationships, many of which are poorly understood.

A good relational database should follow three primary rules.

  1. It should take no longer to enter data than it does to collect them.

  2. The interface should provide structure that assures consistency of data (for example, using drop-down boxes that refer to look-up tables) while still providing flexibility for anomalous situations. Finding this balance usually requires compromise of either flexibility or consistency.

  3. It is critical that the information is accessible and useful once the data have been entered.

The primary tables and the relationships between them are the foundation of a relational database that allow users to export meaningful data. It is important to provide a wide range of information products that are easily generated and exported. However, a database should also allow researchers to design complex queries that export data for unanticipated information needs.

Watch this video for an overview of the Springs Online database.