During the summer months, a keen eye may be needed to recognize vernal pool areas — life-generating and legally-protected areas. Often associated with forested wetlands, vernal pools (also called “spring pools”) are found on many of the Trust’s lands. These pools are typically shallow depressions that hold water for only part of the year. Described as “ephemeral”, vernal pools can’t support fish which would eat a lot of valuable eggs and young of various amphibians. They offer unique and essential habitats for the survival of some really cool singing amphibians and rare plants. Many of these plants and animals spend the dry season as seeds, eggs, or cysts, and then grow and reproduce when the ponds are again filled with water.
In Maine, wood frogs, spotted and blue-spotted salamanders, and fairy shrimp must have access to vernal pools in order to survive and reproduce; some species must return to the exact pool in which they were born to reproduce. Vernal pools form the basis for the lower “trophic system”, or food chain, for the surrounding habitat, providing a high quality food source for many other critters. The loss of a vernal pool results in a “local extinction” event: the loss of local area’s population of some plants and amphibians. This event also causes a significant decline of valuable food for many other local animals, putting them at risk for survival.
For many critters coming out of hibernation (bears, turtles, aquatic frogs), and for birds returning to Maine to breed (herons, ducks, turkeys, raptors), vernal pools provide a spring feast of egg masses and adult amphibians. In short, these “springtime pools” provide easy, fast food for woodland animals after a long winter with limited food.
As long as our woods are full of the sounds of our singing amphibians and bird choruses, we know they are healthy and happy. We can all help by treading gingerly, with the knowledge that our efforts will help to ensure that future generations can become captivated by the singing of the woods as it thanks us and inspires us to a higher level of awareness and appreciation.