Biology seminar speaker talks vernal pool research

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The Biology Department hosted Siena College Professor of Environmental Studies Mary Beth Kolozsvary as a part of its seminar speaker series Thursday, April 9. Kolozsvary’s talk was entitled “Creating Vernal Pools as Wetland Mitigation: How Well Do they Function?”

The lecture described research into artificially created vernal pools, and whether these functioned in the same way as natural pools.

Kolozsvary’s research was conducted on seven artificially created vernal pools in Orange County, comparing them to natural vernal pools in Connecticut.

Several indicators of the health of the pool were taken periodically throughout the seasons in 2013 and 2014. These indicators, some unique to vernal pools, help to compare and contrast the artificial pools to the natural ones and exhibit some of the characteristics of vernal pools.

Vernal pools are usually found in wooded areas, where either snow or water runoff creates a pool in a depression in the landscape. Vernal pools demonstrate a cyclic drying cycle where they are wet, traditionally in the spring, and then dry up in the late summer months.

Kolozsvary started the lecture by highlighting some of the conservation challenges that vernal pools face. Vernal pools have often been ignored or unnoticed in development projects and destruction of habitats surrounding the pools; therefore they have become a topic of concern.

Vernal pools can go unrecognized by local development projects or unmapped due to their isolated locations. This combination has endangered vernal pool habitats throughout the northeast.

In 2006, 12 artificial vernal pools were constructed in Orange County in an effort to mitigate the destruction of vernal pool habitats caused by the building of a highway.

Kolozsvary presented the difference between these artificial pools and the natural pools in the Yale Myers Forest in Connecticut.

Kolozsvary’s data demonstrated difference in the size of the pools, first and foremost. The artificial pools were much smaller in size on average, with almost half the area of the natural pools, but the maximum depths of both were similar.

The artificial pools also had a higher temperature on average, due to the more-open canopy “or possibly due to the urban heat island effect” surrounding the Orange County pools.

Kolozsvary’s research also demonstrated that, although the pools had several different physical characteristics, their primary production rate, measured in presence of chlorophyll, was very similar.

Vernal pools are a variable habitat, yet they share some distinct characteristics.

One of the main differences between the pools was the presence of critical species: wood frogs and spotted salamanders. The natural pools had more egg masses and larvae than the artificial pools. But due to the size of artificial pools, they contained more duckweed, cattails and other aquatic plant species than the natural pools.

Both had a similar amphibian and macro-invertebrate species richness overall.

Kolozsvary’s initial conclusions from her research were that the artificial pools had similar conditions in production and species richness, but were not as populated by the targeted species — the wood frogs, fairy shrimp and spotted salamanders.

Kolozsvary pointed out that such conclusions were only preliminary and needed to be looked into further in the future.

While artificial pools provided some important habitats for many creatures, natural vernal pools are apparently a unique habitat in their own ways for several individual species and cannot be replicated exactly.

Wood frogs, fairy shrimp, spotted salamanders and spring peepers treat natural vernal pools as their homes and their primary breeding ground.

Throughout the northeast, recognition of the importance of vernal pool habitats is becoming more widespread.

Local planners are coordinating more with mappers to track vernal pools more precisely.

The education process both formally and informally, including talks such Kolozsvary’s last week, have aided and will continue to aid the process of conserving vernal pool habitats.

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