Assessing the Status of Vernal Pools on the Southern Cumberland Plateau
The Cumberland Plateau, an important ecoregion of the southeastern United States, contains some of the largest remaining tracts of contiguous forest in the South, however it has been threatened by land-use change over the past three decades, including, increases in hardwood-to-pine conversion. Plateau vernal pools greatly contribute to the biological richness of this area, acting as distinct islands of wetland biodiversity broadly dispersed across the plateau landscape. Wetland biodiversity is dependent on maintaining not only pool but surrounding terrestrial habitat for which many wetland dependent organisms with complex life histories rely on to feed, breed, nest, and/or over-winter. Though vernal pools are a major ecological component of the Cumberland Plateau ecoregion, the localities and current conservation status of both pool and terrestrial habitat is poorly documented.
Kristin Cecala, Sewanee
Brett Scheffers, University of Florida
Callie Oldfield, Univeristy of Georgia
Nick Hollingshead, Cornell University
Evans, J.P., K. K. Cecala, *B. R. Scheffers, *C.A. Oldfield, N. Hollingshead, D. Haskell, and *B. McKenzie. 2017. Widespread degradation of vernal pools in the southeastern United States: Challenges to current and future management. Wetlands 37:1093-1103.
*Scheffers, B.R., B.L. Furman, and J.P. Evans. 2013. Salamanders continue to breed in ephemeral ponds following the removal of surrounding terrestrial habitat. Herpetological Conservation and Biology 8:715-723.
Tennessee Conservationist (April 2014): "These pop up ponds are more than just puddles." by Ann Paine
We identified vernal pools on the surface of southern Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia and assessed the conservation status and determined native forest cover around each of these pool. For a seven county area in Tennessee we examined terrestrial habitat loss within three concentric zones (0-50 m, 51-300 m, and 301-1000 m) of pool margins between 1981 and 2010. There were 2,399 pools within our 1.8 million acre study area in Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia. Of these, 167 (7%) were protected. Within a 300 m buffer around pools, 67% of pools across the landscape had between 51-100% native forest cove. Protected pools were more likely to have intact forest. Between 1981 and 2010, there was an almost 50% decrease in pools surrounded by >75% native forest. A large number of pools with relatively unaltered surrounding terrestrial habitat still remain on the plateau; however, without adequate regulation these habitats will likely become degraded given current trends of regional landuse.