Habitat Restoration

Restoring the habitat of the eastern Kentucky region of Appalachia requires a coalition of local and national governments, as well as the community.

Vernal pools are a type of wetland. They can be surrounded by many communities/species including deciduous forest, grassland, lodgepole pine forest, blue oak woodland, sagebrush steppe, succulent coastal scrub and prairie.

These pools collect rain water and sediment, forming tiny ecosystems with a collection of plants and animals adapted to these diverse ecosystems. Pools range from a few millimeters to meters deep and even the smallest ephemeral pools may harbor microscopic invertebrates.

Annual Water Cycle

Ephemeral means fleeting – these pools only last a short while before drying up or changing. During most years, a vernal pool basin will experience inundation from rain/precipitation, followed by desiccation from evapotranspiration.

These conditions are commonly associated with Mediterranean climate. Most pools are dry for at least part of the year, and fill with the winter rains, spring snowmelt and rising water tables. Some pools may remain at least partially filled with water over the course of a year or more, but all vernal pools dry up periodically.

Typically, a vernal pool has three phases each year: it is inundated in the Winter (Inundated Phase), it dries slowly in the Spring (Flowering Phase), and in the summer it completely dries (Dry phase). A key time during vernal pool development between the flooding and evaporation phases is the flowering of native species, which attracts pollinators and influences seed distribution patterns.

Vernal pools favor native species because non-natives can’t handle the conditions of the water accumulation and drying cycles distinctive of ephemeral pools.

The major threats to vernal pool habitats in Appalachia are motor vehicle and livestock traffic, changes in drainage, poor mine remediation and the resultant substandard surface topology.

Ephemeral Pool Development

Vernal pools can form anywhere that a depression fills with water. They can be found on bedrock of many kinds, or in grasslands that form over a variety of soil types containing silts and clays.

They can develop hydric soils which are typical of flooded areas, including accumulations of organic matter, but this may not happen in drier areas.

In some cases there is a hard pan layer which causes the retention of water in the pools.[5] The hardpan clay basin accumulates water due to the small particle size and therefore reduced porosity. This permits flooding and development of vernal pools.

Vernal pools harbor a distinct assemblage of flora and fauna that, in some cases, aren’t found anywhere else on the planet. Despite this fact, vernal pool ecosystems are facing environmental pressure throughout much of the Appalachia Region.

Disturbingly, much of this destruction has occurred in recent years, with about 13% of remaining vernal pools being lost in the short interval from 1995-2005.

Protecting Ephemeral Habitats

A vernal pool is a unique habitat that is very easily disturbed. Native organisms are sensitive to sudden water chemistry changes, temperature changes and sediment input, as well as being stepped on, and being splashed out onto dry land. Human use of pothole water by swimming, bathing or drinking may change the salinity or pH of a pool drastically. More importantly, this change occurs suddenly, unlike the slow, natural changes to which organisms can adapt. Hikers should therefore avoid using water in potholes as well as walking through dry ones.

These seasonal pools of water provide habitat for distinctive plants and animals. They are considered to be a distinctive type of wetland usually devoid of fish, and thus allow the safe development of natal amphibian and insect species unable to withstand competition or predation by fish.