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 – Kelli Straka

Kelli Straka is a master’s student in the School of Earth and Climate Sciences. She earned her undergraduate degree from Appalachian State University in Geology. Her research interests include groundwater-surface-water interactions and the role climate change has on impacting the hydrologic processes between groundwater and surface-water.

Every three weeks Kelli finds herself wading or trudging (depending on the season) through six of Maine’s seemingly infinite vernal pools. The goal of her research is to create water budgets over a twelve-month period for six vernal pools in varying hydrogeological settings with a focus on quantifying the groundwater component. Previous hydrologic studies on vernal pools assessed the hydroperiod but few offered data on groundwater contributions and other hydrologic fluxes. Data collected from this study will provide the direction and rate of groundwater, which will help provide a better understanding of the impact groundwater has on the hydroperiod of vernal pools. In addition to groundwater data, surface water levels and temperatures, snowpack, basin morphology, and weather data are being collected and combined to create the water budgets. Time-lapse photography is also being used experimentally to monitor snow thickness and snow melting, and other hydrologic processes throughout the year.

Results from this project will provide a better understanding of the recharge and discharge functions of vernal pools, importance of groundwater to the water budget, and the variability in the hydrologic processes associated with vernal pools in Maine. The data collected from this study will also provide baseline information needed to predict how climate change and land-use change will impact the hydrologic regime of these pools, and help guide development regulations to protect the amphibians that use these pools.

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