After the snow melts, some water stays around and looks like a pond at several of Legacy’s preserves. But after a few months and as the weather warms, the pools of water may shrink or completely disappear. What may seem comparable to the cycle of a sidewalk puddle, is actually a type of wetland called a vernal pool, and in fact, holds its own wondrous universe.
Unlike other wetlands, vernal pools are often unnoticed because of their disappearing act and small size. Yet, when you peer into one, you will see it’s bustling with life and something you don’t want to miss!
Their ephemeral or short-lived nature is the reason these habitats are so diverse and vital to forest ecosystems. Because vernal pools dry up, fish are unable to survive in them. With one less predator to worry about, eggs of amphibious species such as wood frogs and blue spotted salamanders have a much higher chance of reaching adulthood. Similarly, a species of crustacean known as fairy shrimp are only able to survive in vernal pools because their eggs go through an important dormancy stage when a pool dries up.
Easily overlooked, vernal pools are not mapped, recorded, and protected like other wetland types. Without proper surveying, they can be easily destroyed and built over. And it’s one of the reasons why Legacy has joined Michigan Natural Features Inventory (MNFI) as a partner in the Michigan Vernal Pool Patrol (MVPP). Led and managed by MNFI, MVPP is a state-wide citizen science program that gathers information on the distribution and status of vernal pools to help conserve them and protect the life they support.
As a partner, Legacy is teaming up with MVPP in two ways: a coordinator role to provide vernal pool training for volunteers and a participant role to document and survey vernal pools on Legacy’s preserves that will contribute to NMFI’s state-wide database.
In March, AmeriCorps members Ally Audia and Camryn Brent attended six hours of vernal pool identification and monitoring training hosted by NMFI. Throughout early spring they mapped possible vernal pool locations on Legacy’s preserves, surveyed each, and added them to the Vernal Pool Patrol online hub. But after potential pools are mapped, the work is just beginning! Each pool needs to be monitored at least once in spring (a second site visit is ideal) and in late summer to see if the site still has standing water. And, these pools will all need to be monitored for consecutive years before MNFI can officially verify them as a vernal pool.
Every year Legacy will be tasked with monitoring over 10 potential vernal pools that Ally and Camryn mapped throughout three of our preserves–Johnson, Creekshead, and Shatter. While current and future AmeriCorps members will be responsible for a majority of the monitoring, we will need additional help getting this work done.
And, that’s where volunteers come in! Anyone who has a desire to contribute to protecting and preserving these under-studied pools are welcome to help, but all volunteers must be trained. Unfortunately, due to the short season of vernal pool tracking, the window to join us in the field as a trained volunteer this year has closed. But, we’re already making plans for next year based on our progress so far.[Interested in volunteering? Check out these training resources and contact us to learn more about the process.]
This past April, Legacy–in its new coordinator role–held a field training at Lloyd and Mabel Johnson Preserve in collaboration with Pittsfield Township and River Raisin Watershed Council. With over 25 people in attendance and now ready to survey vernal pools, it was a wonderful start to our new partnership with MNFI and MVPP! In the future we plan on holding an annual spring training to bring in new volunteers and partners.
Remember to keep these magical wetlands in mind as you enjoy all that spring has to offer, and we hope you will consider joining the patrol next year!