Mapping Climate Resistant Vernal Pools of the Northeastern U.S.
Vernal pools are seasonal wetlands that provide important breeding habitat for a variety of amphibian species. As future climate projections indicate warmer growing seasons and earlier seasonal increases in evapotranspiration, some managers of vernal pools have expressed concern that pools may dry earlier in the season, potentially interfering with completion of amphibian life cycles. In this context, a subset of pools might function as hydrologic refugia by providing wetland habitat later into the year under relatively dry conditions, thus supporting species persistence even as summer conditions become warmer and droughts more frequent. This study used approximately 3,000 field observations of inundation from 450 pools in the northeastern United States—located from West Virginia to Maine—to train machine-learning models for predicting the likelihood of pool inundation. Inputs to these models included pool size, day of the year, climate conditions, short-term weather patterns, and attributes of the landscapes in which pools were embedded. Predictions of pool wetness were generated on a daily time step from late April through late July using three short-term weather scenarios (dry, wet, and average) under historical climate conditions and four sets of downscaled climate projections (2050s and 2080s under Representative Concentration Pathways 4.5 and 8.5). The modeling and inundation prediction process was replicated using four inundation thresholds on wetted area and depth. Model outputs can enable users to examine the inundation thresholds, time points, weather scenarios, and future climate projections most relevant to their management needs. Together with long-term monitoring of individual pools at the site scale, this regional-scale study can support amphibian conservation by helping to identify subsets of pools that may be most likely to function as hydrologic refugia from changing climate conditions.