Ephemeral ponds – Nature’s disappearing act
By Robert Campion
Vilas County land & Water Conservation
If you’ve been out hiking on your favorite nature trail this spring, you might’ve thought to yourself: “Hey, that pond is new! When did they put that there?” In fact, that pond has always been there – you just didn’t notice because it didn’t have water in it. What you have just stumbled across is called an “ephemeral pond.” But as mysterious as that sounds, these ponds are actually naturally occurring.
Also called vernal pools, ephemeral ponds are seasonal bodies of water that appear in the spring as the snow melts and high rainfall of the spring starts. These conditions can fill even the smallest of basins in the ground with water, turning them into hotbed of aquatic ecology. They make good habitat for animals and plants, wake up dormant species out of the soils, and act as a sign that spring has sprung and summer is coming.
Ephemeral ponds are important to their local ecosystems and greatly benefit the environment. Since these pools are temporary, frogs and salamanders can lay their eggs in them without fear of fish already being in the water – this makes them crucial for protecting amphibian populations. Other ephemeral pond residents that make use of this seasonal housing include turtles, tiny invertebrates and even snakes. On top of that, certain plants can only thrive in an environment with these seasonal pools, which adds to the amazing biodiversity found around these ponds.
These pools help absorb the additional rain we get during the spring, and put it to good use as habitat for these critters. That means less runoff carrying chemicals around, or flooding out and eroding areas nearby. Plus, these pools help purify ground water, and keep other bodies of water clean and safe (including the water you drink). Once the heat of the summer comes around, these pools dry up and turn into great soil for plants to grow. Even though the pools are only here for a short amount of time, they have year-round effects on the environment around them.
So now that you know a little more about ephemeral pools, here are some great tips on how to help keep them healthy. The most important thing you can do to a vernal pool is: nothing! Just leaving them as they are is one of the best things you can do for them. These pools can be very sensitive to disruptions, so whether you’re walking, hiking, biking, off-roading, or even being chased by an angry loon, resist the urge splash through any ephemeral ponds you see. Help protect these pools and their inhabitants by letting them thrive just as they are. In addition to leaving the ponds alone, leaving the habitat around them as natural as possible is important to protecting them as well. The land around these ponds provides them with food and helps funnel the water into the basin to allow the pools to form. Leaving these ponds alone allows them to come back every year, and let you enjoy the beauty of a spring pond on your property. As Aldo Leopold wrote in his “A Sand County Almanac,” “When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” These ponds are teeming with life and provide important benefits to us, we can’t afford to lose them.
Robert Campion is the AIS program technician at Vilas County Land and Water Conservation. He can be reached at [email protected]