North Queensland Naturalist 51: 67-86

The unique aquatic ecosystem of Talaroo Hot Springs

 

Peter Negus, Jonathan C. Marshall, Alisha L. Steward, Glenn B. McGregor and Ruth O’Connor

Abstract

Spring wetlands are biodiversity hotspots; however, conservation efforts for many spring wetlands are limited by a lack of knowledge. This study provides information on the natural values of the hot spring and associated wetlands at Talaroo Station in north Queensland. The natural features, the aquatic biodiversity and the threats to their ecological functioning are the focus of this investigation.

Talaroo Hot Springs is a unique geothermal natural spring ecosystem characterised by the hot, carbon dioxide rich water discharging from multiple vents and interacting with a community of microorganisms to produce a terraced travertine mound. The microorganisms are the most conspicuous parts of the mound in the form of yellow fans and the black stromatolite barrages of cyanobacteria (Ewamiania thermalis). The springs also support other rare and endangered species, such as the Salt Pipewort (Eriocaulon carsonii) and an aquatic snail (Gabbia sp.), which is likely to be a new species. Ecological understanding of hot springs is lacking from Australia, and Talaroo Hot Springs is amongst the few geothermal sites worldwide where life in extreme environments can be studied and further scientific investigation is likely to identify other new species.

The study was initiated and supported by the Ewamian Aboriginal Corporation representing the traditional owners of Talaroo to provide information for their plan of management. Priority threats to the ecosystem functioning include introduced species, such as Cane Toads and Feral Pigs, and physical disturbance to the mound, which can alter water flow paths that maintain the active microbial processes that build the mound.