Springs: Treasures to discover and protect

Springs are small and abundant aquatic environments all over the world. They provide moisture,
drinking water, food and shelter for many aquatic and terrestrial organisms and sustain many surface
aquatic ecosystems. Springs are sources of good quality water and important habitats for biodiversity
conservation. Many characteristic organisms, including rare and endemic species live in them.
Springs are threatened ecosystems at a global level due to climate change and little human attention.
According to UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) karst springs are the most important source of drinking water for the world’s population. However, these springs can easily be exposed to pollution because the water infiltrates and flow very quickly through
the fissured karst rocks.

Springs of Montalbo between nature and human disturbances

The Montalbo is a limestone massif located in central-eastern Sardinia (Italy). It was recognized as Site of Community Interest (SIC ITB021107) and since 2017 is part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (MAB Tepilora, Rio, Posada and Montalbo) within UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere programme. The site includes 10 habitats of interest, of which two are priorities according
to the Habitats Directive (Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora). Among the main objectives of the Reserve which comprises 17 municipalities, there is the protection of the quality of surface and groundwater and the conservation of habitats and species.
According to local forest rangers the number of springs in this territory is not yet precisely known. In the mountain area of Siniscola, 16 springs have been counted so far. Some of them supply drinking water to Siniscola and neighboring villages. The spring Fruncu ‘e Oche, which has the greatest
discharge, is captured for drinking purposes. A large manufact built for the water withdrawal has profoundly modified this spring that partly flows over a concrete bed, as well as the surrounding natural environment. Other smaller springs have been converted into fountains and troughs for animals and the water can no longer flow on the ground.
The human activities in the Montalbo area have begun in ancient times with agriculture, pastoralism and cutting of trees by charcoal burners. In the ‘70s quarries have been built for the extraction of minerals which are used for the production of cement in the Buzzi Unicem S.p.A. In more recent times, the Montalbo has become a place that attracts many tourists and hikers because it is made up of landscapes of great beauty from which you can also see the sea. The transformation of the springs and disturbances from human activities probably caused over time a loss of species that previously lived in them. In fountains for example, mosses grow very little while in springs where the water
flows naturally, they form soft and well-developed pads that cover the rocks and there are also ferns and aquatic plants. Recreational activities, if done in a disrespectful way, can be a strong disturbance for springs. In fact, springs are sensitive to external disturbances because they are small. They are formed by various microhabitats between land and water that come together like the pieces of a puzzle and host many organisms. If these microhabitats are destroyed, the species also disappear.
Water pollution can be another threat to several species such as, for example, Speleomantes flavus Stefani, a small geotriton that lives on humid rocks covered by mosses near springs. This species, endemic of Sardinia has been found only in the Montalbo area so far.
In the Mediterranean region, climate change is a worrying threat to springs. Scientists have predicted a decrease in rainfall and an increase in the demand for water by local populations in the future.
Consequently, several small springs could dry up or disappear if the aquifers will not receive sufficient quantities of water for their recharge.

How protect springs?

Despite their importance, springs of the Montalbo area have been little explored and their flora and fauna are almost unknown compared to other geographic regions, such as Alps and Apennines. A recent study carried out in the springs Fruncu ‘e Oche and S’Ulidone highlighted the presence of many species of microalgae called diatoms that live both in rocks and aquatic plants. Although
microscopic, these algae are part of the biodiversity of these environments and contribute to their functioning. Other groups of organisms, for example invertebrates, which are often found in springs, have not yet been studied.
To manage and protect springs in the best possible way from so many dangers, is necessary to understand how they are made and how they function and so increase studies by various experts.
Further, it is important to inform people so that they can have better care and respect of these unique environments. The local community has begun to valorize the spring environments. The Ceas Montalbo Lodè (Center for Environmental Education and Sustainability) has built panels with
information on paths of springs for all visitors to the mountain. However, efforts should also be made to spread compliance with certain rules as much as possible in order to protect and preserve springs over time. For example this could be done starting from the schools. Some behaviors to avoid are for
example the abandonment of waste, the trasformation of springs into fountains or troughs, the tearing of plants and mosses, the moving of stones, and the trampling in the spring area. Another useful thing would be to periodically monitor the water quality and quantity in order to intervene immediately if
there are problems or if the risks increase. More sustainable ways for water abstraction should be sought in the future. For example, springs should never be completely captured but a part of the water should always flow naturally to allow organisms to continue to survive. Furthermore, the water capture systems should modify as little as possible the natural environment.
We should all commit ourselves together to building a balanced relationship with the environment and use the resources in a sustainably manner to leave them to future generations. This is the goal we want to achieve for our territory.

Aureli A. 2010. The UNESCO IHP’s Shared Aquifer Resources Management Global Project. AQUA mundi. J Water Sci. 1:1-6.

Ceas Montalbo di Lodè. Il Montalbo: uno scrigno della Biosfera MaB UNESCO.

De Waele J., Murgia F. 2001. Le sorgenti e gli acquiferi carsici profondi della Sardegna. In: Bertocin, M., Sistu G. (ed.), Acqua, attori, territorio. IV Seminario Europeo di Geografi a dell’Acqua “Conflitti per l’uso dell’acqua in ambito mediterraneo”: 131-136. Cooperativa Universitaria Editrice Cagliaritana, Cagliari.

De Waele J. 2007. Impatto ambientale di attività antropiche sulle aree carsiche in Sardegna. Atti e Memorie della Commissione Grotte “E. Boegan” Vol. 41: 25-45.

Glazier D.S. 2014. Springs. Reference Module in Earth Systems and environmental Sciences: 1–78.

Lai G.G., Padedda B.M., Ector L., Wetzel C.E., Lugliè A., Cantonati M. 2019. Mediterranean karst springs: diatom biodiversity hotspots under the pressure of hydrological fluctuation and nutrient enrichment. Plant Biosystems – An International Journal Dealing with all Aspects of Plant Biology:

Lange M.A. 2020. Climate Change in the Mediterranean: Environmental Impacts and Extreme Events.

Piano di Gestione del SIC “Monte Albo” ITB021107. Studio generale. 2013. C. RI. TER. I. A., Cagliari. 131 pp.

Provincia Autonoma di Bolzano Alto Adige 2008. Sorgenti – Ambienti da scoprire – un percorso nell’affascinante mondo delle sorgenti. https://ambiente.provincia.bz.it/downloads/Opuscolosorgenti.pdf

Speleo Club Nuoro in collaborazione con il Gruppo Grotte Nuorese, Speleo Club Oristanese. Le risorse idriche del Monte Albo. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fi5pNYAU6IQ&t=12s


Figure captions
Photo 1. Quarry in the Montalbo of Siniscola (Sardinia, Italy)

Photo 2. The spring S’Ulidone ‘e josso. Natural flow of spring water with the presence of aquatic macrophytes including mosses (Brachytecium sp.) covering some stones.

Photo 3. The spring S’Ulidone ‘e Susu (converted into a funtain)

Istituto Comprensivo Silvio Pellico Siniscola (Sardinia, Italy)
Classe 2D

Topics: Biodiversity Loss/Pollution/Climate chang