Vernal pools are bodies of water that typically appear in the spring when rain and melting snow fill them. These usually small, but very dynamic wetlands fill with water, blossom with life and host a cacophony of sounds and an abundance of life forms every spring. They often dry up during the summer, but when they are full of water they are also full of life. Mole salamanders, freshwater shrimp, plankton, wood frogs and toads, among other organisms lay their eggs in the pools. In addition to providing a breeding ground for many species, vernal pools reduce flooding impacts by retaining water. The plants that exist in these pools also help to clean and purify the water that moves through them.
Vernal pools are dynamic ecosystems, changing from week to week, season to season and year to year. The organisms that inhabit vernal pools race against time and compete with each other every year, their life histories fine-tuned to live in a world where rain on a day too late, a few grams of weight, or an unlucky encounter with a predaceous beetle larvae means the difference between life and death. It is a miniature, fascinatingly complex and fragile world, with all of its drama played out close to our homes in a few months every year, and yet most people have never witnessed it.
Vital as they are to the health of a watershed, vernal pools are easily destroyed and virtually impossible to replace. Since they often dry up in the late summer and fall, a pool might be damaged or destroyed by development without anyone knowing that the pool was present in the watershed. The Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) has received reports from members throughout Ohio about the rampant filling and destruction of these vernal pools.
In an effort to protect these fragile ecosystems, the OEC hosted a “Vernal Pools Monitoring Program—Train the Trainers” workshop on February 1, 2003. The OEC worked with scientists, agencies and environmental groups around Ohio to develop the Vernal Pool Monitoring Program. A number of residents from around the state attended the workshop and learned more about vernal pools and how to identify and monitor them.
By providing the training and resources for watershed residents to document the vernal pools in their area, the OEC hopes to raise awareness of the diversity of life found in vernal pools, the links that make them an integral part of larger ecosystems, and to improve protection of vernal pools.
The program will provide a special opportunity for local groups to build their memberships by organizing volunteers around fun and interesting events in their watersheds. The program will also provide citizens, natural resource managers, and regulatory agencies with information that can be used to better manage and protect these fragile ecosystems. Finally, the program will provide a forum for exchanging ideas and experiences, and integrating the knowledge about these systems in Ohio.
Vernal pools are a vibrant, sensitive, and unfortunately, threatened type of wetlands. Look for them in the coming months in your own watershed. To become involved in this program or to learn how to start your own program, please contact Keith Dimoff at firstname.lastname@example.org or Molly Flanagan at email@example.com or (614) 487-7506. The OEC can provide information on how to contact a “Trained Vernal Pool Monitor” in Ohio as well as other important monitoring information. The OEC can also put you in contact with scientists in your area to answer questions and address concerns that you may have about vernal pools. Please visit our website at http://www.theoec.org/cwater_vernal.html for more information.