Ecology of vernal pools
Scattered within its hardwood and pine forest, the Rice Center harbors a number of vernal pools. These small, shallow wetlands fill seasonally with rain water, typically from December through April, and then are dry during the summer and autumn months. Because of their small size and ephemeral nature, vernal pools are becoming an endangered habitat, being very susceptible to the loss of forest to agriculture and urban expansion. These pools, however, are important for a variety of animals adapted to this unique wetland habitat, including various species of salamanders and aquatic invertebrates. The several species of salamanders and the many species of invertebrates that inhabit the center’s vernal pools have been the focus of attention of a number of studies over the past few years.
One recent study described the species composition of the invertebrate communities and determined the inherent variability of the communities in vernal pools at the Rice Center that are in close spatial proximity to each other. While all of the pools had about the same number of species, many of the species found occurred in only a few of the pools. Individual pools thus were relatively unique in the invertebrate species dwelling in them. This finding has important conservation implications in that as individual pools are destroyed through land development the biodiversity of the region is negatively impacted.