Vital Habitat: Karst Aquifers

Image of the Tumbling Creek Cavesnail, Endangered Karst Species

Tumbling Creek Cavesnail, Endangered Karst Species

The Karst Aquifer portal highlights the Edwards, Roswell and Ozarks aquifers in the CSWGCIN region.  Karst aquifers are limestone (or other easily-dissolved rock) that produce karst features, such as sinkholes, cave systems and springs, over time as the rock dissolves and fractures.  These features provide niche habitats for a wide variety of threatened and endangered species.  The Karst Aquifer portal features information and data, as well as an interactive mapping application, on groundwater and surface water conditions, precipitation, threatened and endangered species in the Edwards, Roswell and Ozarks aquifers.

Biodiversity & Vital Habitat

Biodiversity Collage, images courtesy of NBII Life
Images courtesy of NBII LIFE

What is biodiversity?

Biodiversity is a measure of the variety of plant and animal life in a particular region or ecosystem. Biodiversity can be discussed in terms of genetic diversity, species diversity, and habitat diversity. Habitat areas with more species, or greater diversity, have a better chance of recovering from human-induced and natural disturbances including exotic species introductions, storms, drought or flood. Increased biodiversity can lead to greater productivity, which can be translated into a greater amount of natural resources available for plant, animal and human populations.

What is a vital habitat?

A vital habitat is an area considered essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species. A variety of vital habitats are found throughout the CSWGCIN region of Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Gulf Coast.

Habitat loss is identified as a significant factor in the decline of plant and animal species in the United States. As a result, a major focus of threatened and endangered species management strategies deals directly with the conservation of vital habitats. It is important to analyze and understand vital habitats, their natural cycles, and their relationships with the human built environment to help these ecosystems thrive and to aid in species conservation.

What are the issues?

The Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973 provides for a number of activities to protect endangered and threatened species. The activities include the protection of vital habitat and the creation of a recovery plan for each listed species.

Endangered species conservation initiatives and private property rights are often in conflict. Private property owners may resist the designation of vital habitats, because they feel it could lower property values or increase the control of government agencies over private lands. Species conservationists fear that not enough areas are being designated as vital habitats, which could contribute to and accelerate species extinctions. Overall, it is important to recognize the crucial role that vital habitats play in the protection of threatened and endangered species.

Regional Ecoregions

Ecoregion Mapping Application Screenshot
Ecoregions are a type of spatial classification tool used by scientists, resource managers, and conservation organizations to regionalize biogeographic areas.  For each different Level 2 (as designated by the EPA) ecoregion, an informational page describing the unique physical and biological characteristics that comprise the region has been developed. The discussion highlights one federally designated endangered, threatened or candidate species, one invasive species and one species typical to that ecoregion.

The associated interactive mapping application provides access to distributions of all threatened and endangered species within the highlighted ecoregions. Additionally, the application provides access to the geographic distribution of selected invasive species, political boundaries, and baseline environmental data. Click on the image to the left to start exploring the rich biodiversity in the region.

Ecoregions are composed of many diverse ecosystem types found in the region.  Check out the Regional Ecosystems page to learn more about each of these unique biological areas.

Gulf of Mexico Biodiversity

Image of pink octocoral (Muricea pendula), courtesy of National Undersea Research Center at UNC-Wilminton

The Gulf of Mexico Biodiversity interactive mapping application explores the incredibly diverse habitat in the Gulf, displaying distribution information on benthos, plankton and other marine life groups as well as provide background data on parameters such as dissolved oxygen, temperature, and others. The Gulf of Mexico Biodiversity portal explores some of the diverse phyla represented in the mapping application and has discussion on species habitat, widespread range, and life history characteristics.

Drought Information Portal

Drought is a natural regular feature of any regional climate, including the Central Southwest Gulf Coast Region. Drought is defined as a deficiency in normal precipitation over a protracted time period, but can be exacerbated by unusually high temperatures and winds, or unusually low levels of humidity.

Texas Drought Map

Check out the Drought Information Portal for resources on drought, including maps and images of drought-affected areas in CSWGCIN.

The NBII Program is administered by the Biological Informatics Program of the U.S. Geological Survey
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