Spring Snowmelt Creates Short-Lived Ecosystems and “Master Survivalists”

A spotted salamander shares the vernal pool ecosystem with fairy shrimp. Photo: Piotr Naskrecki
A spotted salamander shares the vernal pool ecosystem with fairy shrimp. Photo: Piotr Naskrecki

Yesterday, we stumbled upon a beautiful post from “The Smaller Majority” blog about fairy shrimp, vernal pools, and the lengths organisms go to to survive in the ephemeral aquatic ecosystems that form when the winter snow pack melts.  It’s an amazing piece full of stunning photography via Piotr Naskrecki, an entomologist, photographer and author based at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology. Piotr writes:
A swarm of fairy shrimp take advantage of the short-lived perfect conditions in their vernal pool ecosystem. Photo: Piotr Naskrecki
A swarm of fairy shrimp take advantage of the short-lived perfect conditions in their vernal pool ecosystem. Photo: Piotr Naskrecki

As the first sunny days of March begin to melt away frozen remainders of winter in the northeastern United States, members of an ancient lineage of animals are getting ready to spring back to life. Throughout most of the year their habitat was as dry as a bone, but when the last patches of snow turned into water, leaf-packed depressions on the of the forest floor suddenly transformed into small, ephemeral ponds. Known as vernal pools, these fleeting bodies of water will be gone again by the time summer comes, but for now they create a unique aquatic ecosystem. Soon, the water is filled with thousands of tiny animals, at first not much larger than the point at the end of this sentence, but within a few weeks reaching the length of nearly a half of a pinky finger. They are the fairy shrimp (Eubranchipus vernalis), members of a group of crustaceans known as branchiopods, animals that were already present in the Cambrian seas half a billion years ago, before any plants even considered leaving water for terrestrial habitats.
If you’d like to know more about an organism that lays a kind of egg that can survive through years’ worth of blazing summers and icy winters, then Read the full post on Piotr’s amazing photo blog!

1 thought on “Spring Snowmelt Creates Short-Lived Ecosystems and “Master Survivalists””

  1. It is a unique opportunity to enjoy and study temporal ecosystems that teach us the explosion of life that occurs in such a short period of time, taking advantage of every moment in your study discover the answers given the nature of their needs.
    Exciting.
    Best regards.

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