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Earth Notes: Springsnail Conservation Strategy

Gary Alpert, MNA Center for Bio-Cultural Diversity

There’s a new conservation plan for springsnails in Nevada and Utah. It’s aimed at protecting these strictly aquatic snails that depend entirely on springs for their existence.

More than 100 species of springsnails are known in the two states. Some of these unique gastropods are about the size of a match head, others are microscopic. They have names like the Rocky Mountain duskysnail, Green River pebblesnail and Grand Wash springsnail.

Some are highly adapted to only one spring complex and are found nowhere else in the world. Springsnails are also indicator species – their presence says water quality and springs are in good health. If their numbers are low, or they are absent altogether, that could be a signal that their habitats need help.

The Springs Stewardship Institute at the Museum of Northern Arizona worked with the Springsnail Conservation Team to develop the plan, along with the Nature Conservancy, federal agencies and other groups. Over the course of ten years, the team wants to identify threats, restore habitat, conduct outreach and education and compile a single comprehensive database of all the species.

Utah and Nevada have an especially diverse group of springsnails, but they’re also among the fastest growing states in a drought-stricken, warming region. Springs in the area are tapped for water, while the groundwater that feeds them is also being used for development.

Several species have already gone extinct and a large percentage of others are considered “critically imperiled.” The Conservation Strategy aims to prevent further loss by documenting where springsnail populations live and then working to reduce threats to the creatures and their increasingly rare habitats.