What are Springs-Dependent Species?

In arid, mesic, and subaqueous (underwater) settings alike, springs are renown as hotspots of biological diversity. Springs are places where life is highly concentrated, and the species occurring at springs include upland, riparian, wetland, and aquatic taxa, of which some exist only at springs. These springs-dependent species (SDS) are any organisms that require springs habitat for at least one life stage. Some SDSs, such as many hydrobiid springsnails (more than 150 species in North America) and desert pupfish (Cyprinodontidae) occur only in springs sources and outflows, while some dragonflies, aquatic true bugs, tiger and diving beetles, crane and shore flies, amphibians, fish, and other vertebrates require springs for spawning and/or larval rearing habitat, or for over-wintering (e.g., Florida manatees) or winter dormancy (e.g., some turtles). If a species cannot exist without springs habitat, we consider it to be springs dependent.

While springs are small habitats, making up < 0.01% of the land area of North America, they are extraordinarily rich in biodiversity. In our recent inventories in large National Forests, National Parks, and other public land units, we commonly encounter 20-25% of the regional plant species in visits to 50-75 springs, which may only occupy 3-5 ha (7-13 ac) of land. In addition, we find a host of aquatic and riparian invertebrate and vertebrate species that occur nowhere else in the landscape. Nationally, at least 10% of the federally listed threatened and endangered species are springs dependent, even though springs make up a tiny fraction of the national land area. In addition to those federally listed species, we have documented more than 1000 SDS, most of which are not protected, but many of which are rare and exclusively found in just a few springs.

Therefore, springs are "Noah's ark" habitats, protecting much of our biodiversity and natural heritage for future generations in tiny, isolated habitats. But springs, as a fleet of arks, face stormy seas and an uncertain future because of unrelenting human demands and ignorance. We at SSI are hope that education will increase awareness and help calm that ocean of onslaught.

The Springs-Dependent Species project

SSI, in collaboration with Dr. Gary Alpert, has begun work on the Springs-Dependent Species (SDS) Online Directory. The project, started in April, 2015. aims to bring attention to endemic and endangered species as part of our effort to increase awareness and improve stewardship of these vital freshwater resources.

Each species in the directory has complete taxonomic information as well as maps of their geographic distribution and high-resolution images. The images are taken in our laboratory at the Museum of Northern Arizona using a Canon 6D DSLR mounted to a StackShot focusing rail. Specimens are placed in an imaging box lit with LED array lights to illuminate every detail. The system then takes 30-50 stacked source images that are edited in Helicon Focus.

Contributing to the project...

SSI has the capabilities and a highly-trained staff to publish articles on Springs-Dependent Species. However, we require additional funding to take this project to the next level. If you would like to play a role in advancing education of springs ecosystems and their dependent species, please donate to our General Fund. Donations are tax-deductible and can go a long way towards achieving our mission.

 

 

The Apache Spiketail Dragonfly

Banner image by © 2005Terry Wright, Arizona Hiking Guide.

Scientific NAme

Odonata: Codulegastridae Cordulegaster diadema diadema Selys

History and distribution

 In 1917 Clarence Kennedy suggested that spiketail larvae likely wash downstream in floods over their multi-year larval lifetime, so starting life at the headwaters makes sense. Watch for these remarkable dragonflies in Deer Creek from August through October.

Description

The Apache spiketail dragonfly is the largest and one of the most brilliantly colored creatures on the Colorado Plateau: a jet black body with bright yellow banding, and enormous, startlingly brilliant blue eyes. One of two western species, the spiketails are particularly adapted to life in steep, narrow canyons. This species flies in mid- to late summer and into autumn, and adults are most often found close to montane springs. Females lay their eggs in mud at the water’s edge, often at springs sources. They remain in the larval stage for three years, growing to nearly 5 cm (2”) in length, and live in stream bottom mud.

 

 

Above image courtesy of Erland Refling Nielson

Grand Canyon Masked Clubskimmer

Scientific Name

Odanata: Libellulidae - Brechmorhoga pertinax

History and distribution

Discovered in the Grand Canyon in 2003, Brechmorhoga pertinax is a species more commonly found in Central America. The specimen found in springfed streams from Nankoweap and Stone Creek represents the only breeding population in the United States. The type specimen of masked clubskimmer was collected in Central America, and prior to its discovery in Grand Canyon, this species was only known from two specimens that were thought to have blown in to the U.S. from Mexico. Thus, the Grand Canyon population is an extremely isolated population and genetic analyses are being undertaken to determine whether the Grand Canyon specimen represents a subspecies.

Description

The masked clubskimmer is a large, showy dragonfly. Large bodied, it takes its common name from the widening, club-like segment of its abdominal region.


The Grand Canyon Wetsalts Tiger Beetle

Banner photo by Marcus Collado

Scientific NAme

Coleoptera: Carabidae/Cicindelinae - Cicindela hemorrhagica arizonae

History and distribution

This species occurs upstream of Cliff Dwellers Lodge, and downstream at least to Colorado River Mile 209. A similar, but somewhat darker population occurs farther downstream and in the lower Virgin River, although the taxonomy of that population is unclear. The Grand Canyon wetsalts tiger beetle was first discovered in Grand Canyon by Rowland Hayward and C.H. Townsend, who collected a specimen in July 1892 near John Hance's in-canyon cabin site, where there once was a spring that no longer exists. David Rockefeller collected another specimen at Phantom Ranch in July 1934.

Description

The Grand Canyon wetsalts tiger beetle is endemic to Grand Canyon. It is bronze colored, about 1/2" long, with cream markings (maculation) and a reddish underside. Many Grand Canyon specimens have a greenish-bronze cast to the thorax. The adults are agile and found at the edge of springfed streams, such as Hermit Creek, in mid-summer. They sit upright, attentively searching for prey and enemies, but are easily alarmed. They fly away and hide when one approaches within about 5 feet. The larvae live in tunnels and lunge out at passing prey - primarily soft-bodied insects.

 

 

 

Citation

Stevens, L.E., J.D. Ledbetter, M.A. Joyce, T. Cheknis, and G.D. Alpert. 2015. Grand Canyon wetsalts tiger beetle (Carabidae-Cicindelinae: Cicindela hemorrhagica arizonae). Springs Stewardship Institute Springs-Dependent Species 20150512. Museum of Northern Arizona, Flagstaff.

 

Herbert‘s and Breviceps Giant Water Bugs

Scientific NAme

Hemiptera: Belostomatidae Abedus herberti herberti Hidalgo and Abedus breviceps Stål

History and distribution

Herbert’s giant water bug is found in lower Grand Canyon in streams within the ancient drainage of the early Cenozoic “California River”, a river that flowed east and north across the northwestern corner of Arizona. Herbert’s giant water bug is widespread through the Southwest. In contrast, the abedus water bug is found only in a single stream in central Grand Canyon, the only population of that species on the southern Colorado Plateau.

Description

These are two of three giant water bug species known from Grand Canyon, all of which occur in desert spring-fed streams, and all of which are aquatic predators.Behavioral observations on abedus water bugs in southern Arizona revealed that it senses on-coming flashfloods, and climbs out of the water and above the flood waters to avoid the scouring effects of summer floods.

Martin's Nerthra

Scientific NAme

Hemiptera: Gelastocoridae Nerthra martini

History and distribution

Nerthra marini. Photo by the Springs Stewardship Institute.

Nerthra marini. Photo by the Springs Stewardship Institute.

One of the strangest-looking springs bugs in the Southwest, this 1 cm (1/2”) semi-aquatic predator is found in Grand Canyon only in the ancient path of the early Cenozoic “California River”, a river that flowed east and north across the northwestern corner of Arizona.

Description

Nerthra lives at the margin of springfed streams in the lower Canyon, where it feeds on damselfly larvae and other soft-bodied invertebrates. It is rarely seen, but is related to the toad bugs (Gelastocoris)— two species of diminutive but much cuter bugs that hop along the shorelines of desert streams in Grand Canyon.

McDougall's Flaveria

Scientific Name

Asteraceae: Flaveria mcdougallii

distribution

Endemic to seepage areas in a small portion of the Grand Canyon in both Coconino and Mohave counties, Arizona. This perennial herb is abundant within its limited habitat, but it is listed as 'imperiled.'

Description

A yellow-flowering, 1 m-tall shrub growing only in alkaline, Mississippian-Cambrian aquifer springs in Grand Canyon, between Miles 137 and 178 on both sides of Colorado River. As a perennial, they have numerous stems, each with 3-6 flowers that bloom between September and November. The common name, McDougall's flaveria honors Dr. Walter B. McDougall, an ecologist who specialized in the flora of both Yellowstone and Grand Canyon National Parks, 1883-1980.

Springtail

Scientific NAme

Collembola: Paronellidae - Salina mulcahyae

History and distribution

Originally caught by Dr. Larry Stevens in Lower Madison Springs on the Rio Grande, where it lives under stones at the very back of a rock shelter ledge from which warm spring water emerges. The springtails are quite numerous in warm, cave mouth-like habitat, but were only found it at Lower Madison Springs (one of six Rio Grande springs surveyed by the Springs Stewardship Institute in late April 2015). This species is otherwise known from southeastern New Mexico and southern Arizona, and the collection on the Rio Grande is a 500 km range extension.

Description

The specimens were identified by Dr. Ernest C. Bernard at the University of Tennessee Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, from a high resolution photograph taken by Jennifer Chavez. Dr. Bernard says that"Most Paronellidae are tropical and many of them live high up in trees in the rain forest. The U.S. mainland has only three known species. S. mulcahyae was known from Sierra County, NM (type locality) and from Cochise, Pima, and Santa Cruz counties in Arizona."

The Southwestern Viceroy Butterfly

Scientific NAme

Leptidoptera: Nymphalidae Limenitis archippus obsoleta

History and distribution

In 1934, David Rockefeller, Sr., then a teenager, crossed Grand Canyon on a rim-to-rim hike on the first major entomological collecting expedition in Grand Canyon. Fortunately, he deposited specimens at Grand Canyon and at several other museums, including the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Mr. Rockefeller captured a southwestern viceroy butterfly at Phantom Ranch, as well as a number of aquatic beetles (he went on to assemble the largest personal beetle collection in the world). However, the viceroy butterfly disappeared from Phantom Ranch, and for many decades was assumed to have been extirpated from Grand Canyon.

Southwestern viceroy butterfly. Split dorsal and ventral view. Image by Tom Cheknis.

Description

In the Southwest, viceroy butterflies are most often associated with coyote willow (Salix exigua), and that willow species may have been eliminated from lower Bright Angel Creek by flooding in the 1960s. Larry Stevens found viceroys living in Deer Creek Valley in 2009, confirming its continued existence in Grand Canyon. Look for it there around the willows in August and September. In the eastern US the viceroy is renown as a Műllerian mimic of the bad-tasting monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), but in the West it mimics the equally bad-tasting queen butterfly (Danaus gilippus).