by Lawrence E. Stevens , Abraham E. Springer, and Jeri D. Ledbetter
A comprehensive, broadly applicable assessment protocol is needed to: 1) evaluate and compare the ecological health of springs ecosystems, 2) detect change and trends over time, and 3) develop management priorities at local, regional, national, and global scales. We developed a springs ecosystem assessment protocol (SEAP) to evaluate the ecological status or condition, and the risks and restoration potential within and among springs. The SEAP is based on a conceptual ecosystem model developed by Stevens and Springer (2005), and it incorporates information from on-site inventory, literature review, and interviews with the resource manager(s), as well as recent advances in springs classification (Springer and Stevens 2008; Springer et al. 2008).
This assessment process ranks the condition (or value) of each subcategory, and the risk to that subcategory resource variable. Risk is interpreted as the potential threat or the “condition inertia” (probability of remaining unchanged, the inverse restoration potential) of that varible. The SEAP includes evaluation of six overall categories of variables, including the supporting aquifer, site geomorphology, the habitat and microhabitat array, and the site biota, all in relation to human uses and influences, and the administrative context under which the spring is managed. Each category is scored on the basis of 5-8 subcategory variables, which are ranked on a 0-6 scoring scale by the inventory team (variables 1-5, aquifer integrity to human influences) and through a discussion with the land or resource manager (variable 6 – administrative context). Category scores are averaged from subcategory scores, and the overall ecological health score is evaluated in relation to human influences, and compared with the stewardship plan for the site. The field forms and the SEAP criteria are available here.
The SEAP has the flexibility to be developed from several levels of information and time/funding availability, including: a very rapid, in-office assessment developed by a manager with good understanding of a site; the results of a brief (10-20 minute) Level 1 rapid field examination of the site; or a comprehensive Level 2 inventory conducted by a team of 3-4 experts during a several-hour site visit. The SEAP’s quantitative approach also allows it to be used as a monitoring tool, permitting comparison of ecological condition over time, or following management actions. We conducted a Level 2 inventory of Montezuma Well, a large limnocrene (pool-forming spring) in Montezuma Castle National Monument in central Arizona (Fig. 1). The SEAP produced from that inventory showed that the Well was in fairly good ecological shape but is threatened by regional groundwater pumping and intensive recreational impacts.