Vernal Pool Mapping and Geomorphology in the Appalachian Mountains of Pennsylvania

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Virginia Tech

Vernal pools are small seasonally-ponded wetlands that provide crucial habitat for amphibian reproduction and support trophic levels beyond their boundaries. The Ridge and Valley physiographic province in Pennsylvania is known to have vernal pools, but a regional inventory and geomorphology assessment is needed. My research is split into two independent parts focusing on the higher elevation areas of this region to determine vernal pool distribution and characteristics. Vernal pools were mapped using a LiDAR based suitability model and leaf-off aerial imagery interpretation. Four terrain rasters derived from a 1-meter DEM (modified wind modified wind exposure, terrain surface convexity, topographic position index, and a multiresolution index of valley bottom flatness) were used in the suitability model. An analysis of variance (ANOVA) and Tukey's HSD test found a significant difference using the model between terrestrial (non-wetland) habitat and vernal pools. Photo interpretation and field surveying lead to an inventory of 1011 vernal pools. Geomorphology was assessed from 13 variables to determine the best for vernal pool prediction. Three variables were significant for the occurrence and frequency of vernal pools; saddles with higher surface area, 0.6 to 1.5 kilometers between the summits of parallel ridgelines, and the presence of periglacial related solifluction. Vernal pool distribution is greater than previously known and they occur in predictable settings. Further research should focus on how and where vernal pools form, their impact on water quality, role in forest ecology, and ways to legally protect them at the state level.

wetland, upland pond, remote sensing, periglacial, pingo, solifluction, forested wetland, NWI, terrain analysis, hydric soils, amphibian, ridge and valley