Vernal Pools: Natural History and Conservation

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Colburn, Elizabteh A. Vernal Pools: Natural History and Conservation.
Blacksburg, Virginia. The McDonald & Woodward Publishing Company.
2004. 426 pp. isbn: 0-939923-92-0


For the last twenty five years, Dr. Colburn, presently an Aquatic Ecologist at Harvard Forest at Petersham, Massachusetts, has been studying and teaching about, and work for the protection of vernal pools and other small wetlands in what is considered the glaciated northeast of the United States. Vernal Pools is a concerted effort to publish all available information regarding these pools that occur in the formely glaciated areas encompassing southeastern Canada and the northeastern United States. The book provides a comprehensive summary and review of the available published literature and unpublished data, including her own research, which offers a scholarly synthesis of the current understanding of these types of habitats and of the lives of plants and animals associated with them. The book aims at a better understanding of vernal pools, their conservation and the long term protection of fauna and flora dependent on vernal pools.

The books is divided into five major parts providing a general overview of vernal pool ecology, in-depth summaries of the biology and ecology of such systems along with an appendix with an annotated list of the fauna of the vernal pools and seasonal ponds on and near the glaciated northeast.

Although the books is intended to a general readership for different purposes, the reader must keep in mind that the test presents both general summaries of and also rather technical information about northeastern pools. Nonetheless, the information found in it, in many instances can also be applied to vernal pools and transient or seasonal pool anywhere else in the United States. Each chapter offers a list of questions that remain to be answered and suggestions for additional research for both scientists and naturalists.

Chapter one serves as an introduction to vernal pools of the northeastern North America and offers a summary of the geographic distributions of these pools. It also includes a comprehensive definition of vernal pools.

Chapter two and three provide a summary information of the physical traits of vernal pools. They focus on hydrology, water sources, flooding regimes. They also dwell on the landscape substrate, surface are and depth, water chemistry and background information on species distribution and of the life strategies of the species discussed in subsequent chapters.

The ten chapter that make the main portion of thjis book present the natural history and ecology of vernal pools. There are overviews of bacteria, algae, fungi, protists, and so-called higher plants linked to vernal pools along with life histories of animals that inhabit vernal pools. There are detailed accounts of invertebrates and vertebrates most often found in vernal pools of the northeast. Moreover, seasonal cycles, energy flows and changes in these communities over times are also discussed in these chapters. Of particular interest to this forum would be a whole chapter, chapter eleven, devoted to amphibians and depicting the life history strategies of vernal pool amphibians.

Chapter eleven features and focuses on the relevance and importance of these small wetlands to as breeding habitat for certain amphibians, in particular the Ambystomatidae and Rana sylvatica. The chapter goes into detail about what is known of breeding habits, early egg deposition, rapid development, larval development, mortality, dispersal and repeat breeding and site fidelity for several species of salamanders in the glaciated northeast.. It also covers some species of ranids, Hylidae, Bufonidae and one species of Pelobatidae. Of the caudates discussed in this chapter, there are sections devoted to Ambystoma maculatum, Ambystoma opacum, Ambystoma jeffersonianum and Ambystoma laterale and hybridization, Ambystoma texanum, Ambystoma tigrinum along with other species such as Notophthalmus viridescens, Plethodon cinereus and Hemidactylum scutatum. Although the information offered on this chapter is not new and more a summary of what is known from other research and study, it still makes for interesting reading and a quick and accurate summary of what is known of these species in the areas covered by this book.

The final chapter focuses on conservation and the relationships among vernal pool, other freshwater habitats and surrounding uplands. It addresses what the author considers to be the major threats to vernal pools and recommendation for conservation efforts.

This is not a highly pictorial book and certainly not one devoted to husbandry and care of amphibians. I would recommended as a good addition to any library for those who conduct field trip to vernal pools and other areas where amphibians may be found, for those interested in learning more about the particular habitat used my Ambystomatidae for breeding purposes and for those who find these mysterious and fascinating habitats a source of wonder and solace.

José Escobar
Charleston, South Carolina
 
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