Understanding Vernal Pool Hydrology and Animal Use

University of Washington
Open Access
DOI: 10.18258/4118
Raised of $1,200 Goal
Funded on 2/26/15
Successfully Funded
  • $1,255
  • 104%
  • Funded
    on 2/26/15

About This Project

Vernal Pools are temporary wetlands that fill annually and support a unique set of species. The goal of our study in Massachusetts is to better understand how water level in vernal pools fluctuates throughout the year. Studies like ours are critical to protecting species that rely on vernal pools.

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What is the context of this research?

Vernal pools are a unique type of wetland which periodically dries. Because of drying and low oxygen levels in the water, these pools do not support fish. Several species require vernal pools to compete their life cycle, these are called obligate vernal pool species. In Massachusetts, these obligate species are the spotted salamander, blue-spotted salamander, marbled salamander, Jefferson salamander, wood frog and fairy shrimp.

What is the significance of this project?

When obligate vernal pool species are documented breeding in a vernal pool, that vernal pool can be reported to the state of Massachusetts as a Certified Vernal Pool. This certification gives the vernal pool protection. The high resolution hydrologic data from out water level loggers can be used in computer models to project vernal pool drying in the future. Since we know what species use which pools based on how long they're wet, we can project which species will be able to use which pools in the future. Understanding the hydrology of vernal pools will help management agencies make more informed decisions.

What are the goals of the project?

  • Locate previously documented vernal pools and deploy water level loggers to monitor water level fluctuation.
  • Visit potential vernal pools and survey for species which rely on those pools. If evidence of obligate vernal pool species breeding is found, we'll submit the vernal pool to Massachusetts Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program for protection as a Certified Vernal Pool.


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Our monitoring technique relies on small water level logging computers. They cost $300 apiece and we need four of them for our deployment in Massachusetts (Spring 2015). These water level loggers are placed in vernal pools and record the pool depth every 30 minutes. Using these water level loggers allow us to monitor water level simultaneously in 10 pools at once for a period of several months. These water level loggers also allow us to monitor vernal pool depth without having to physically enter and disturb the pool for each measurement.

Meet the Team

Maureen Ryan
Maureen Ryan
Mara Healy
Mara Healy
Noll Steinweg
Noll Steinweg

Team Bio

Maureen Ryan

- Research Associate, Simon Fraser University, 2012-2015

- David H. Smith Conservation Research Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Washington, 2011-2014

- Adjunct Faculty, Western Washington University

- PhD, Population Biology, University of California Davis, 2010

- Research on the effects of climate change and landscape change on the hydrology of wetlands and the species that use them, with a focus on amphibians (frogs and salamanders)

Mara Healy

- Studied Ecological Systems Thinking and Science Communication at Western Washington University

- Research assistant on alpine wetland hydrology project for the past three years

- I love to knit!

Noll Steinweg

- Studied Natural History and Science Communication at Western Washington University

- Research assistant on alpine wetland hydrology project for the past four years

- I get a kick out of walking long distances and lightweight backpacking. My backpacking stove is made out of an old cat food can.

Noll Steinweg

frogs frogs frogs...

Additional Information

Who is that critter at the top of the page? That's a Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum), one of six obligate vernal pool species in Massachusetts.

Project Backers

  • 21Backers
  • 104%Funded
  • $1,255Total Donations
  • $52.62Average Donation
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