Blue Hills A-Live: Vernal Pools Part 2 Transcript


Judy: I think we got lost, but thank you, Deb, for asking the question. Deb asked about microorganisms.


Kyla: So the most important thing is not necessarily the microorganisms in the vernal pool, what’s important is what’s not there. You can’t have pollution, you can’t have hydrocarbons, you can’t have nitrogen, you have to have clean, clean water with an intact surrounding and upland in order for the vernal pool to be successful. My company did a study of the vernal pools adjacent to the existing Providence rail line and compared those vernal pools to pristine vernal pools in the Hockomock Swamp in Easton, where they want to put a train line through and we found a significant difference just from the diesel, from the hydrocarbons emitted from the diesel trains, so those pools had virtually nothing alive in it whereas the pristine ones were teeming with life, with fairy shrimp, with salamanders and with frogs. So it’s not what’s in there, you have a healthy ecosystem if it’s clean water and vegetative matter with some sunlight and lots of plants around it.


Judy: Great, thanks Deb, for your question and do you want to talk about certified… like what does it mean to be a “certified vernal pool?


Kyla: Sure, so Massachusetts is one of those very few states that offers additional protection to vernal pools which is great. So the natural heritage and endangered species program at the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife have what they call a certification program and anybody anywhere can certify a vernal pool which will give it additional protection from development and filling. If you look it up online, you can just go to google and type in “certifying vernal pools in Massachusetts” and the form will come up but basically, all you need to do is prove it’s a vernal pool by showing that there are obligate vernal pool species breeding in there. For example, I was in in the Borderland State Park last night and I heard wood frogs calling, that quacking that I talked about before. They’re an obligate vernal pool species. If I had tape recorded that and then taken a picture of the pool and proved that there wasn’t any kind of permanent flowing outlet that fish could get in then I could certify that vernal pool. So there are other methods of certifying it but the easiest way to do it is to demonstrate that there are obligate species there that are breeding, either through the frogs chorus and/or from finding five or more egg masses.


Judy: That sounds really hard to do.


Kyla: It’s actually not that hard to do and something fun for those of you who are interested to have kids interested, there’s actually a data layer that’s available to the public that shows both the certified vernal pools and what the state calls potential vernal pools. These are areas that they’ve identified from aerial photography that are probably vernal pools but they haven’t had the chance to go out there and certify them and actually, the state isn’t the one that ever certifies them. They rely on us, people, general people and the citizens to do it. So you can find a potential vernal pool in your neighborhood. Don’t trespass on private land, but if you find one on conservation land or in a park or something like that and it’s not yet certified, this is a great time of year, between now and the next month, to go out and actually certify the pool.


Judy:  Great. So are there ways that people can protect vernal pools?


Kyla: Education is a really good way to protect vernal pools and you know what’s so fascinating about these areas is that because they’re small and shallow, it’s easy for kids to get in and see the egg masses being laid you can see the eggs developing, you can see them hatch and turn into tiny little salamanders and frogs as they progress through metamorphosis, and what’s important about them, is that these animals are a really, really important part of the food web and so frogs and salamanders, when they’re adults, eat a ton of insects and amphibians are getting more and more endangered throughout the world every year because of climate change, because of viruses, because of funguses… this is because habitat destruction. If we lose them, we’re losing a lot of insect control and we’re losing the food for other species. You’ll have raccoons, possums, otters, coyotes, Fisher… they all will eat the frogs and salamanders and they’ll even eat the eggs so it’s a really important part of the entire food web.


Judy: We have another question from Amy. She just wants a reminder of where you said that they can find the information on the location of current and pending vernal pools.


Kyla: Sure. You can just go …I don’t have the exact website off the top of my head… but if you go to Google or any other search engine, Google is my favorite, but you can use any one you want and you can just type in “map Massachusetts certified vernal pools” or you can say “potential vernal pools” because the ones that aren’t yet certified are called potential vernal pools and the website will come up it’s part of the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species program website which is NH ESP and they have the data layers and you can just click on it you can put in an address of your house for example and it’ll show you all the potential vernal pools and certified vernal pools around your house.


Judy: One thing that turns up every spring, we kind of give a notice about leashing your dog, want to talk a little about that?


Kyla: Sure, so when you’re in a park or Blue Hills or anywhere with your dog, you know some dogs are very curious, and when they see a frog jump or a salamander scurry they see any kind of movement, they’re gonna go after it and if they go into the vernal pool to swim, a lot of dogs are big swimmers, they can disrupt the egg masses. When the eggs are laid, they’re laid usually, the ones that have the big masses like the spotted salamander and the wood frogs, they’re laid around a stick like this and if they’re dislodged the eggs will fail and so because there’s such a high mortality rate with these eggs so for example, one salamander can lay hundreds and hundreds of eggs and out of those probably only one will reach sexual maturity so there’s a high mortality rate. You don’t want to contribute to that by having your dogs swimming in the pool and dislodging the eggs from their sticks, so you’re always supposed to have your dog on a leash but now it’s really important. So some of the parks actually put up caution tape around the vernal pools once the eggs are laid to keep people and pets from going in there.


Judy: So you were talking about how the water is only here in the spring but some species use the pools in the fall even?


Kyla: Year,

there’s one species here in New England and around the country. It’s a threatened species here in

Massachusetts. It’s called the Marbled Salamander, Ambystoma opacum, and this salamander has a really interesting life strategy. Instead of coming in the spring when all the other species come, what they do is, the females will go to the dried-up pools in the late fall and they will lay their eggs in the bottom of the dried pool like underneath the log and the females will actually guard the eggs they only lay a few like, you know, ten to twelve. You know, not that many, not hundreds or thousands like the other species. So the females stay with the eggs and guard them and when the fall rains come and fill up the pool the female will leave and go to her wintering habitat and the eggs will actually, over winter they’ll hatch, during the winter, underneath the ice and by the time spring rolls around they’re actually little larvae that are about this big and they have a jump on all the other species. So those larvae will actually prey on the wood frog eggs and the other spotted salamander eggs and things like that because they’re already farther ahead than the other species. So it’s a really cool strategy


Judy: Yeah and I bet the other animals are really glad that that’s an endangered-species.


Kyla: Yeah they probably are. We do have marble salamanders in this area but I don’t know if Blue Hills has them or not.


Judy: We can look that up.


Kyla: Yeah.


Judy: Are there other things that you think we should know about vernal pools and if there’s any other questions let us know, too.

Kyla: I think I think the most important thing to realize is how important these pools are not only to the whole food chain, there are certain species that we call “keystone species” where if you significantly reduce their population or get rid of them, then you’re going to cause this chain reaction which can be dangerous to a host of other species including humans. We don’t want to kill off amphibians. They’re what we consider the canary in the coalmine. Because amphibians breathe through their skin, they’re the first ones to succumb to toxins in the environment so if you don’t have a healthy amphibian population there’s something wrong with your environment. These species are also, some of them, are really long-lived. Like these spotted salamanders, the black ones with the yellow dots, they’re 20 to 25 years old so they have personalities, you know, they’re not just dispensable, you know animals that don’t mean anything, they’re not like some people consider insects, they’re really adorable, they’re friendly, they’re really cute, they look both ways before they cross the road, they really do and they live for so long and they rely on the pool in which they were born so you don’t want to destroy their pool. So if you have a vernal pool in your backyard, don’t cut down the trees around it, don’t dump stuff in it like leaf clippings and grass clippings and leaves, try to be respectful of their space and let them do what they have to do because it’s not only important to them but it’s important to all of us.


Judy: Good and you probably should end there, but I did have another question. You said that there’s no “big night” now. When they come not all together, is that a problem for their population?


Kyla: Do you hear that? That was a wood frog! I’m sorry! So is it a problem for them to come… that was a wood frog! So this is a certifiable vernal pool!


Judy: So I caught it on the tape, we could send it in.


Kyla: Can you hear it?


Judy: Yeah


Kyla: So the answer to your question is, there’s more of a chance for them to get killed if it’s spread out over because a lot of them, not in Blue Hills or not in a state park or in large conservation tracts but like, for example, at the Audubon Sanctuary in Sharon, the salamanders and the frogs have to cross a road to get to the vernal pools and we used to years ago 20 years ago we used to go every big night and we’d go out there with signs and slow the cars down and when we saw one start to cross we’d bend down pick it up and run it to the other side of the road so they didn’t get run over because the mortality was extreme. When you have it spread out over a number of nights or a number of weeks there’s just more of a chance for mortality, so that’s why it’s a problem. So yeah I mean the changing climate is a problem, it’s a problem.


Judy: Thank you, Kyla.


Kyla: Thank you for having me.


Judy: And thank you for watching Blue Hills A-Live, your weekly guide to the Blue Hills. We thank our sponsor Tom O’Neill of Success! Real Estate in Milton and I just want to give another shout out to Green Up the Blue Hills on April 28th at 9 o’clock at Houghton’s pond and you can bring your kids and adults can come and just help out in the Blue Hills and trail maintenance and other activities and we hope to see you next Thursday at noon when we’ll be talking about nature photography. Thanks.

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