Bonneville basin critical zones

Spring chemistry and gastropod ecology in playa-margin wetlands

  • Jory Lerback Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
  • Brenda Bowen University of Utah
  • Sam Bagge
  • Mikelia Heberer University of Utah
  • Ryan Cocke University of Utah
  • Hayley Bricker University of California, Los Angeles


Playa margin wetlands in the Bonneville basin are sustained by groundwater-fed brackish springs, which transport salts and other solutes into the playa basin. These wetlands are sensitive to changing water availability and quality, which are impacted by changing climate and land use, and whose sediments also provide important records of changing environmental conditions. Gastropods building their shells in these springs provide important recorders of water chemistry and may reflect changing aqueous conditions. In this paper, we analyze spring water chemistry, gastropod ecology and gastropod shell chemistry of Blue Lake (BL) and Horseshoe Springs (HRS), two groundwater-fed wetlands in the Great Salt Lake watershed. We report the physical parameters including pH, temperature, and specific conductivity across the spring pond at Horseshoe springs. There was a slight but statistically significant variation in these physical characteristics between the deeper and shallower parts of the pool, providing evidence that there are different subsite microclimates, which may impact the populations and the isotopic composition of gastropod shells. We measured gastropod population diversity amongst nearly 12,000 shells sampled at Horseshoe springs, finding low population diversity (Shannon’s Diversity Index of 0.432), although the populations of shallow and deep snails are slightly different. The dominant snail at HRS is the Pyrgulopsis which is imperiled, and we also note that we did not find living snails here. We evaluated the bulk shell variation of stable carbonate isotopes (δ13C, and δ18O) across sites and genera. We show that there were no significant subsite-level differences in gastropod δ13C compositions, suggesting that water depth and productivity were not impacting the isotopic signal. We found subsite- and genera-specific differences in snail δ18O compositions, which we interpret to be more dependent on the geography and microclimate of where the snail lived rather than the genera’s physiology (pulmonate versus gil-breathing). We report concentrations of alkali metals (Li, Na, K, Rb, Cs), alkali earth metals (Be, Mg, Ca, Sr, Ba), and metals and metalloids (Al, Sc, Mn, Fe, Cu, Ni, Zn, As) at spring site waters and in bulk shells as potential baseline data for interpreting future or past environmental changes as recorded in shell material. We found trace element concentration and certain elemental ratio differences between genera at the same site (particularly of note were Li, Zn, Mn and Al) that will be important to constrain if these shells are to be applied as a paleoenvironmental proxy and are sometimes attributed to land use change.

How to Cite
Lerback , J., Bowen , B., Bagge , S., Heberer , M., Cocke , R., and Bricker , H., 2024, Bonneville basin critical zones: Spring chemistry and gastropod ecology in playa-margin wetlands: Geosites, v. 51, p. 1-18., doi: 10.31711/ugap.v51i.144.