Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘vernal pools’

What’s Happening at Waterloo?

Tuesday, April 11th, 2017

By Allegra Mitchell, CWF Biologist

 

Waterloo Village in Byram Township, Sussex County is more than a tourist attraction and local gem, it is also home to the largest cross-road amphibian migration in New Jersey. Each spring, frogs, toads, and salamanders stir from their hibernation to make their way to their breeding sites. Some of these sites, like the one at Waterloo, are vernal pools – small, temporary bodies of water that appear in early spring as snow melts and rain and groundwater gathers, and disappear throughout the summer as they evaporate. The ephemeral nature of these pools can’t support fish, which would prey on amphibian eggs and larvae. Vernal pools therefore provide some protection for amphibian offspring, with many species such as wood frogs and spotted and Jefferson salamanders – both of which are listed as New Jersey species of Special Concern – relying exclusively on these vernal pools for breeding.

 

 

The greatest challenge for amphibians breeding at Waterloo Historic Village is crossing Waterloo Road. Living in the most densely population state takes a toll on many species of wildlife in the form of habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation. Each year, many amphibians become victim to vehicular collision as they move from their hibernation sites across Waterloo Road to the vernal pool in which they reproduce. Amphibians may be disproportionately affected by vehicle-caused road mortalities compared to other wildlife because of their tendency to migrate en masse to breeding sites. These annual road mortalities can have devastating effects on amphibian population sizes, especially for the local at-risk salamander populations. In fact, as little as about 10% annual risk of road mortality in spotted salamanders can lead to the local extinction of an entire population.

 

Wood Frog eggs. Photo courtesy of MacKenzie Hall.

To address this problem, the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey (CWF) and the New Jersey Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP) organized amphibian rescue efforts. Since 2002, dedicated volunteers have assisted frogs, toads, and salamanders across Waterloo Road during the busiest migration nights. This aid has proven effective in reducing amphibian road mortalities, but it is not a permanent solution to the problem. Efforts are underway to construct under-road tunnels to help guide amphibians safely across Waterloo Road. These tunnels will provide safe passage for these critters throughout the breeding season, including on their migration back into the woods where they will hibernate. Since this return migration is more sporadic and less weather-dependent than migration to the vernal pool, it is much harder to protect amphibians as they make their way back to the forest.

 

 

This year, CWF scientists have begun the initial phases of research to understand current amphibian population sizes and the impact of vehicle traffic on these animals at Waterloo. Scientists and volunteers have been out 7 days a week since amphibian migrations began in late February to tally daily roadkill on Waterloo Road. This study will be used to evaluate changes to frog, toad, and salamander populations as the under-road amphibian tunnels are installed. CWF scientists have also conducted egg mass counts in the vernal pool at Waterloo Village to estimate the current population sizes of the different amphibian species in the area. Having this knowledge will allow CWF to improve on future projects to minimize road-related human-wildlife conflicts.

 

Spotted Salamander egg mass. Photo courtesy of MacKenzie Hall.

Along with improving conditions for amphibians in this location, CWF’s work at Waterloo Village will serve as an example of New Jersey statewide initiatives to reconnect wildlife habitat as a part of the Connecting Habitat Across New Jersey (CHANJ) program. The goal of CHANJ is to make our state landscapes more permeable to wildlife movement so that all of New Jersey’s residents – human and wildlife – will have the space they need to thrive.

 

In an effort to bring people and wildlife together in a positive way at Waterloo Village, CWF scientists are leading educational walks for the public and local schools. Through hands-on interaction, local residents can learn about and appreciate the remarkable wildlife right in their own back yards and what they can do to support conservation efforts.

 

All New Jerseyans can help wildlife this season by planting native plants for their gardens, building bat boxes where bats can roost, and, of course, by keeping an eye out on the roads, especially on warm, rainy nights when amphibians might be migrating.


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Allegra Mitchell is a biologist for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

 

Tiger Salamander Season

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016

Volunteers Survey For This Rare and Elusive NJ Salamander.

by: Larissa Smith, CWF Wildlife Biologist

Adult Tiger Salamander @ M. Tribulski

On a cold December evening I met up with ENSP biologists and dedicated Tiger Salamander project volunteers to survey for Eastern Tiger Salamanders. The group had been out surveying all day in Atlantic County without spotting any tiger salamanders and were cold but still raring to go. The pool we surveyed has been a successful tiger salamander breeding pool, within a complex of enhanced vernal pools. We weren’t disappointed as we quickly found adult salamanders in the pool and egg masses.

Another great find was a neotenic (gilled adult).  This was a larvae, most likely, from last season that didn’t metamorphose and still had external gills. It had not yet left the pool, whereas most larvae metamorphose and leave the pools in June to July of their hatching year.

Neotenic adult @ M. Tribulski

Surveying for TS@ M. Tribulski

We surveyed a second pool in the complex, but found no sign of adults or egg masses. We found fish in the pool, which is an indicator that there won’t be salamanders since the fish eat the eggs and larvae.

New Tiger Salamander breeding pools have been found by the TS volunteers, in Cape May and Cumberland Counties. It is encouraging to know that these salamanders continue to live and breed in New Jersey and that gives me hope for the future of all NJ wildlife.


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Exploration of An Ecosystem That Most People Will Never See

Thursday, May 5th, 2016
CWF Vernal Pool Walks Connect New Jersey Residents with Rare, Seasonal Marvel

by Lindsay McNamara, Communications Manager

AndreaProctor_SpringPeeper

Spring Peeper photo by Andrea Proctor.

We all know that “April showers bring May flowers,” but the earlier rains of March stir up beauties of a different kind. When the first spring raindrops hit the barely-thawed ground and night falls on the forest, frogs, salamanders, and toads emerge from their winter burrows. These amphibians – the spotted salamanders, wood frogs, spring peepers, and others – are anxious to get to their breeding pools and lay their eggs. The waters that they choose are called vernal pools because they fill with rainwater, snowmelt, and rising groundwater in early spring but then dry up as summer advances. The pools are thus temporary and cannot support fish, meaning fewer predators for the amphibian eggs and young.

In the northeastern United States, vernal pools are home to over 500 species. In New Jersey, these pools are critical habitat for amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates, migratory waterfowl, raptors, and songbirds. All 14 of New Jersey’s frog species use vernal pools to breed and two endangered salamander species breed exclusively in vernal pools, including Cape May’s eastern tiger salamander.

The new generation of amphibians must race to complete metamorphosis and leave the vernal pool before the water does. Under perfect conditions of warm, thawing, nighttime rains, there may be hundreds or even thousands of amphibians moving at once toward the same breeding pool. The darkness and the rain allow them to move stealthily over the landscape, hidden from predators like the owl and raccoon.

 

CWF’s Kelly Triece organized a series of walks through the vernal pools of Waterloo Village in Sussex County, New Jersey, and showed residents the unexpected creatures swimming in the pool’s shallow waters. Kelly led the exploration of an ecosystem that most people will never see! Participants listened to the songs of Spring Peepers and discovered salamander eggs, fairy shrimp, and other unique creatures as the evenings set in. Here are photos from her walks:

CWF biologist Kelly Triece educates participants on the natural resources of Waterloo.

CWF biologist Kelly Triece educates participants on the natural resources of Waterloo.

CWF biologist Kelly Triece looking for wildlife in the vernal pool.

CWF biologist Kelly Triece looking for wildlife in the vernal pool.

 

Spotted Salamander Eggs! Photo by Kelly Triece.

Spotted Salamander Eggs! Photo by Kelly Triece.

 

Green Frog photo by Kelly Triece.

Green Frog photo by Kelly Triece.

 

Examining the wildlife found in the vernal pool after dark.

Examining the wildlife found in the vernal pool after dark.

 

 

 

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Lindsay McNamara is the Communications Manager for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

New Jersey Tiger Season

Thursday, December 17th, 2015
Biologists and volunteers survey for New Jersey Eastern Tiger Salamanders

by Larissa Smith, biologist/volunteer manager

 

It’s the time of year when Conserve Wildlife Foundation biologists and volunteers along with Endangered and Nongame Species biologists start to survey for New Jersey’s “tigers,” and by tigers I don’t mean the big striped cats, we’re talking about the Eastern Tiger Salamanders. These large mole salamanders spend most of their life burrowed under the ground and in December begin to emerge to migrate to vernal pools and breed. Eastern Tiger Salamanders are endangered in New Jersey and only found in 15 pools in the most southern part of the state.

 

Last week dedicated volunteers Wayne Russell, John King and myself went out to check on a few known breeding pools.  The water level in the ponds was lower than usual due to the lack of rain, but John found an adult male in one of the pools.

Tiger Salamander found 12__9_15@ W. Russell

Tiger Salamander found 12/9/15 Photo by W. Russell

We were delighted to find a male in the pool so early in December. At another known breeding pool we found the partial remains of two Eastern Tiger Salamanders that had obviously been eaten by a predator. But the good news was that we also found two tiger salamander egg masses in the same pool.

 

Predation is just one of the challenges that these salamanders face. Tiger Salamanders themselves are targeted by collectors for the pet trade which is why their breeding locations are kept a secret. Their habitat is declining due to habitat loss and fragmentation, development, pollution, changes in hydrology, and climate change.

 

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Larissa Smith is a wildlife biologist and volunteer manager for Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.

 

Photo From the Field

Monday, December 29th, 2014
Male eastern tiger salamander found 12/19/14 in vernal pool complex in Cape May.

Male eastern tiger salamander found 12/19/14 in vernal pool complex in Cape May.

Eastern tiger salamanders are starting to move to their breeding pools. The Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, the State Division of Fish and Wildlife Endangered and Nongame Species Program, and a dedicated group of volunteers will be surveying the pools over the next few months to determine populations.

Learn more about Conserve Wildlife Foundation’s amphibian projects:

 

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