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The wood frog (Rana sylvatica) and the four local species of mole salamander (Ambystoma spp.) have evolved breeding strategies intolerant of fish predation on their eggs and larvae; the lack of fish populations is essential to the breeding success of these species. Other amphibian species, including the American toad (Bufo americanus), green frog (Rana clamitans), and the red-spotted newt (Notophthalmus viridescens), often exploit the fish-free waters of vernal pools but do not depend on them. Vernal pools also support rich and diverse invertebrate faunas. Some invertebrate species, such as fairy shrimp (Eubranchipus spp.), are also entirely dependent upon vernal pool habitat. Invertebrates are both important predators and prey in vernal pool ecosystems. Vernal pools are an important habitat resource for many birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, including many state-listed rare species.
The boundary of vernal pool habitat must incorporate the shallowest reaches of the pool. Where there is no distinct and clear topographic break at the edge of a pool, the maximum observed or recorded water level represents the ecological boundary of the vernal pool. This boundary is evident and should be delineated by leaf staining and other indicators of hydrology outside of the peak-flood stage of early spring (March through early April in most cases). The boundary of vernal pool habitat may be defined differently for the purpose of local, state or federal protection.
Field observations of maximum flood levels, or of indicators of the maximum water level, must be made to determine the boundary. The boundary must be established based on field observation of water level indicators. The NHESP, in certifying a vernal pool, does not visit the pool, and as such does not establish the actual boundary through the certification process. Therefore, in recording observations of vernal pools for the purpose of certification, notes pertaining to observed water level and recognizable landmarks that show maximum flooding are extremely helpful in boundary delineation.
For more information about how to certify a vernal pool, you can visit the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program's website.