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The Flora and Conservation Status of Petrifying Springs in Ireland

Melinda LyonsMelinda Lyons

Supervisor: Dr Daniel Kelly

Petrifying springs are complex and specialised habitats where 'tufa' (calcium carbonate) is deposited by the emerging lime-rich ground water.  Petrifying springs are of considerable ecological interest as the associated flora is highly adapted and characteristic.  It is typically dominated by bryophytes and in particular by Palustriella commutata.  Other frequently occurring species include Eucladium verticillatum, Philonotis calcarea, Cratoneuron filicinum, Didymodon tophaceus, Bryum pseudotriquetrum, Aneura pinguis, Pellia endiviifolia and Scorpidium cossonii.  Bryophytes have been shown to play an active role in the formation of tufa.  As the water disperses below the spring head, it often gives rise to a species-rich flush containing higher plants such as sedges (e.g. Carex viridula subsp. brachyrrhyncha, C. dioica and C. pulicaris) common butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris), grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia palustris) and bog pimpernel (Anagallis tenella).
Petrifying springs tend to be small, local features but preliminary indications suggest that while generally rare, the habitat type is widespread throughout parts of Ireland in a variety of landscape settings.  This study will investigate the diversity of flora and the contributing environmental factors in a wide range of petrifying spring sites throughout the country.  It will ascertain the current conservation status of petrifying springs, elucidate key issues impacting on habitat quality and make recommendations for conservation and future monitoring of this important ecological resource.  The project is funded by the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology (IRCSET) and National Parks and Wildlife Service.


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Last updated 7 March 2011