Desert springs have captured the human imagination since time immemorial. They have underpinned survival, travel and culture across arid regions globally, as well as supporting unique biological communities, often including species that live nowhere else. However, since the industrial era many have become lost – either through extinction due to groundwater extraction and other human impacts, or simply by virtue of being bypassed with mechanised transport and the proliferation of alternative artificial water sources. Sometimes springs have become extinct both physically and in human geographical knowledge.
It is essential to understand the location, activity status, history and ecological values of springs at a landscape or aquifer scale, in order to effectively manage their values and protect them from current and emerging threats. Over the past three decades, researchers at the Queensland Herbarium and University of Queensland have compiled a comprehensive database of all known active and inactive springs in the eastern Great Artesian Basin (GAB) underlying Queensland and New South Wales, spanning 1.5 million square kilometres. We employed comprehensive field surveys, local knowledge, historical maps, and a review of historical and contemporary literature. The database includes information on location, activity status, hydrogeology, and cultural and ecological values of nearly 2882 known springs, including 2132 that remain active.
Springs are clustered in nine main groups, termed ‘supergroups’. Cultural and ecological values vary markedly between and within groups, as do activity status and threats. This presentation will provide a summary of the approaches to building spring knowledge across the Great Artesian Basin and the role of the spring database in ensuring long-term conservation outcomes for springs and the values they support.