Springs associated with the Great Artesian Basin are unique because they are home to a huge diversity of narrow-range endemic taxa – essentially animals and plants that only one very small location. Many of these species were only recently discovered (most being described since the 1980’s) and recent advances in complementing traditional morphological descriptions with DNA evidence are suggesting that there are likely far more species than we previously documented .
Springs are threatened by a number of processes, from local threats such as the introduction of Gambusia and disturbance by cattle and pigs to national threats via depletion of the Great Artesian Basin (either by local bore extraction or mines). In order to protect the diversity that springs hold we need to know what species live where. We also want to know if there are particular characteristics of springs with higher diversity, for example why is it that Edgbaston has so many species (~23 endemics only at Edgbaston) whilst nearby springs like Coreena have so few (~1 snail and a few plants).
So, Rod, Mark and myself alongside a suite of experts on each respective taxa are reviewing and putting together an updated list of all of the plants and animals endemic to springs, as well as all the un-described and potentially endemic groups that need a bit of attention. This list will complement another HUGE database on the springs recently put up online, the Lake Eyre Springs Assessment, becoming the first ever completely searchable and nationally integrated information source regarding how cool Australian springs are.
I will be posting updates on the groups of animals and plants as I complete them in the next section.
Springs are clustered across the Great Artesian Basin into thirteen regions that we springs-people refer to as supergroups. Within each supergroup there are small-scale clusters (usually springs within 50km of each other) where springs emerge in the same landscape context (i.e. along the same local fault) and are generally connected to each other. We refer to these smaller groups as complexes (I’ve summarised this in a previous post about springs in general here).
Species endemic to springs have different levels of spatial restriction – some of them are restricted to just one set of springs in one specific locale (e.g. the Red-finned Blue-eye, or the snail Edgbastonia alanwillsi are the only species in a single genera found only at Edgbaston) whilst others may be restricted to Great Artesian Basin springs but are found in lots of locations across the basin (e.g. the Saltwater Pipewort, Eriocaulon carsonii).
These patterns of distribution mean that endemism in springs can encapsulate numerous levels. The most specialised and restricted species in springs are characterised as the narrow-range spring endemic species. These organisms are restricted to one or few locally clustered complexes (for example the Red-finned Blue-eye above). There are also species that are only found in springs, but are found across a large number of geographically spread complexes (for example the Saltwater Pipe-wort above). These are included as the spring endemic species. There are also those species that are found in non-spring environments (i.e. coastal wetlands) but have isolated and genetically distinct populations within springs. These are considered in this analysis as geographically distinctive populations. Finally, there are also those species that are found in non-spring environments, but their persistence is tied to the presence of springs as refuges. These are included in this analysis as crenophile species.
There are also different patterns of biodiversity across different springs complexes. Some complexes seem to house a large number of species that are found nowhere else – for example the Edgbaston complex houses ~23 species of spring endemics, ~13 of which are narrow-range spring endemics found only on Edgbaston. Some complexes seem to have no endemic species at either level (e.g. a lot of complexes in the Flinders River supergroup). Below is a summary of investigations undertaken by the Australian Museum, who looked at the number of species in springs at a supergroup scale .
Project scope and aims
To try and build a more accurate picture of the different types of endemic species and where they are found, we are currently working on a project that aims to:
- Collate a list of all endemic taxa, including sub-species and “evolutionarily significant units” within the plants, fishes, snails, amphipods and isopods
- Summarise biodiversity values across the basin and their environmental correlates
- Assess the intersection of threat and biodiversity, highlighting regions and taxa of greatest concern
To communicate some of these results before they are published (mostly because they make me really excited) I will write a brief review on each group of organisms as we finish their section. I will update them in the following links:
- Most of the snails were described by Dr. Winston Ponder from the 1980’s onward, some of the first fishes such as the Dalhousie Hardy-head were described in the 1970’s but the Gobies were only recently described in the mid 1990’s, for the crustaceans descriptions are mostly since the 1990’s.
- For example, within the amphipods: Murphy, N.P., Adams, M., Guzik, M.T., and Austin, A.D. (2013) Extraordinary micro-endemism in Australian desert spring amphipods. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 66(3), 645-653.
- See papers by Rod and Russ Fairfax documenting the disappearance of springs since the colonial expansion: Fairfax, R.J., and Fensham, R.J. (2002) In the Footsteps of J. Alfred Griffiths: a cataclysmic History of Great Artesian Basin Springs in Queensland. Australian Geographical Studies 40(2), 210-230; Fairfax, R.J., and Fensham, R.J. (2003) Great Artesian Basin springs in Southern Queensland 1911-2000. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 49(1), 285-293.
- Taken from: Ponder, W., Vial, M., and Jefferys, E. (2010) The aquatic macro-invertebrates in the springs on Edgbaston Station, Queensland. Queensland Museum.