Spring ecosystems are places on the Earth’s surface that are influenced by the exposure or emergence of groundwater. Springs are renowned as ecosystems that often have high biological, cultural, historic, and socio-economic importance, not only in arid subaerial settings but also in mesic and subaqueous environments. With global estimates reaching 50 million, springs are abundant, although the area of individual springs is typically small (usually <0.1 ha). Springs are renowned as being among the most productive ecosystems on Earth, and in cases when water quality is distinctive and natural disturbance is limited, springs can support high levels of rare and endemic biodiversity. Therefore, springs often function as point sources of biodiversity and as refugia for springs-dependent taxa (SDT), which either require spring habitat(s) for at least one life history stage, or occur primarily at springs. Extrinsically, springs also can be highly ecologically interactive (keystone) ecosystems, with multi-dimensional ecosystem subsidy exchange and supporting many upland taxa. Despite their remarkable ecological attributes, springs everywhere are intensively used for water supplies and other natural resources, and are the focus of recreational and balynological visitation; indeed, springs have been the subject of human attention throughout our evolutionary history. However, springs nearly everywhere are poorly mapped, heavily appropriated, and their conservation status is generally poorly understood. Despite Odum’s (1957) use of Silver Springs in Florida to frame the science of ecosystem ecology, only recently has research on spring ecosystems intensified, but much basic and applied research remains outstanding. Here we present synopses on the distribution, typology, ecology, anthropogenic uses, and conservation status of >250,000 springs from all continents except Antarctica, from a total of 75 countries and in some cases from multiple states or geologic provinces within countries. This information was derived from our individual studies and from the literature, and serves as the foundation of the first analysis on the ecological status of the world’s spring ecosystems. The synopses presented here are freely available through the Springs Stewardship Institute website (https://SpringStewardshipInstitute.org), with spring ecosystem inventory data readily and securely added into Springs Online (https://springsdata.org). It is our hope that this open, collaborative effort will expand global awareness of the importance of improving public and scientific understanding of springs as remarkable focal points of socio-ecological interactivity that warrant enhanced and collaborative stewardship attention.
The book is freely available at: