In honour of World Wetlands Day on February 2, let’s pay tribute to vernal pools. Due to their small size and transient nature, vernal pools are a type of wetland that is easily overlooked. While brimming with water in spring, they may be nothing more than a dry, isolated, depression on the forest floor by summer.
But don’t let that fool you. They reliably appear and disappear at the same place and same time, year after year.
Currently, vernal pools fall outside the scope of Ontario’s natural heritage policy protections. But that needs to change. Here are the top 4 reasons why:
1. Habitat: Vernal pools are wetlands, and like all wetlands they provide critical habitat for many species, including wood frogs, Jefferson salamanders and fairy shrimp. Because they dry out in the summer, vernal pools don’t support fish which might otherwise eat the eggs or young of these species. Thus acting as predator-free nurseries!
Wood frog; Credit: Scott Gillingwater
Four-toed salamander; Credit: Stephanie Muckle
2. Clean drinking water: Vernal pools are an important element of our headwaters and help to regulate water flow and keep our rivers and streams healthy. Whether we realize it or not, we all benefit from vernal pools. We should raise a glass of fresh water to vernal pools!
Vernal pool at Altberg Nature Reserve, CREDIT: Noah Cole
3. Climate change: Like other wetlands, vernal pools can help buffer against the adverse impacts of climate change. At the same time, they are very vulnerable to major shifts in temperature, precipitation and hydrological regimes.
Vernal pool; Credit: pleaceuvm CC BY NC 2.0
4. Incentive to conserve: There’s a lot we don’t know about vernal pools in Ontario, such as where they are. If we don’t know where these critical habitats are, we can’t protect them and so we will continue to lose them. Recognizing vernal pools in provincial policy will ensure they receive the attention and protection they deserve.
Vernal pool; Credit: Stephanie Muckle
For these reasons and more, let’s hope that vernal pools figure meaningfully in Ontario’s new wetland conservation strategy, to be released in the upcoming months. Meanwhile, Ontario Nature is working with partners and volunteers across the province to map vernal pools.
Please join us and contribute to our collective knowledge about these under-appreciated wetlands and the species that depend on them.
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Jenna Siu is a conservation assistant at Ontario Nature.