Providing Information on Vernal Pools for Our Communities.

What is a Vernal Pool?

Naturally occurring, temporary to semi-permanent pools occurring in shallow depressions in forested landscapes. Vernal pools provide the primary breeding habitat for wood frogs, blue- spotted and spotted salamanders, and fairy shrimp and provide habitat for other wildlife including several endangered and threatened species.

Blue-Spotted Salamanders

Blue-Spotted Salamanders (Ambystoma laterale) are rare in Maine, and are a state listed Species of Special Concern. As the smallest of the mole salamanders in Maine, they grow to between 3 and 5 inches long.  Blue-Spotted Salamanders migrate an average of 73 meters from their underground burrow to a vernal pool to breed.

Unisexual Salamanders

Unisexual Salamanders (Ambystoma laterale x jeffersonianum) are more common than Blue-spotted Salamanders, but rely on this other salamander to reproduce. As their name implies, nearly all Unisexual Salamanders are female. In order to reproduce, this lineage must parasitize sperm from the Blue-Spotted Salamander.

Featured Scientist – Thomas Hastings

Thomas Hastings is a recent graduate from the University of Maine who earned a Bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Ecology. Over the past four years he has worked on many different amphibian research projects in Maine, Arizona, and Montana with varying goals and research interests. He is currently working in the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Conservation Biology as a scientific research assistant. Tom is also a member of the CNH graduate student team. His research interests include using innovative techniques to study herpetofauna responses to anthropogenic impacts and finding solutions that help to mitigate detrimental effects observed in human altered landscapes. Other interests of his include public outreach and education about wildlife.

Tom is currently involved in a project that aims to understand the movement and habitat selection of adult wood frogs in an urbanizing landscape. Wood frog migration patterns and habitat selection has been studied in more natural landscapes. The goal of this research is to learn how woods frogs complete their annual life history needs in a landscape that has been fragmented by humans. This involves studying adult wood frog movements from the time that they begin spring migrations from vernal pools until they complete their fall migrations and enter winter hibernacula. It is important to understand how wood frogs annually move among multiple different types of essential environments in a fragmented landscape.  He is studying wood frogs moving from a unique vernal pool that it is almost completely surrounded by various urbanizing features including roads, yards, and fields. To carry out this research, Tom applies transmitters to frogs with belts and tracks them daily using radio-telemetry. All new relocations require habitat characteristics to be documented for the habitat selection aspect of the study.

Results from this project will allow comparison of movement patterns and habitat selection that occurs in an urbanizing landscape to results of wood frogs in more natural environments. This project may also shed some light on unpredictable threats that wood frogs face when moving through human fragmented landscapes. Alternatively, this study may also allow us to observe which features reduce risks and benefit frogs that move across fragmented landscapes.

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