Contact(s): DNR conservation biologists Ryan O'Connor, 608-354-2383; Rori Paloski, 608-264-6040; Rich Staffen, 608-266-4340
HAYWARD - May is wetlands month, and for Wisconsin's amphibians that means the mating game is on and state conservation biologists are in hot pursuit.
Wood frogs, frozen for the winter under leaf litter, thaw out and have two weeks to find their match and the perfect pool in which to lay their eggs. They hop on over to ephemeral ponds, depressions usually found in forest landscapes, that hold water after snowmelt and spring rains but typically dry out by mid-summer.
The ponds are fishless, allowing their eggs to survive; they have the right water temperatures (about 40-60 degrees); and they hold water long enough to allow the eggs to hatch and the resulting tadpoles to metamorphose into frogs.
Because some ephemeral ponds are more enticing than others to wood frogs, DNR Natural Heritage Conservation Program biologists don waders to locate which ponds the frogs, spotted salamanders and blue spotted salamanders, pick to lay their eggs.
"Part of our effort is to understand which ponds they are using for breeding," says Ryan O'Connor, a conservation biologist with the Natural Heritage Conservation Program. "A lot of times these ponds are very small - only one-quarter to one-half an acre - yet they are very important for wildlife including wood frogs."
Locating, cataloging and describing these ponds will help protect them on public lands. The information the conservation biologists collect is fed into DNR master planning efforts that ultimately determine how state parks, forests, wildlife areas and natural areas will be managed.
In 2018, DNR Natural Heritage Conservation biologists completed an important project to help safeguard this critical fish-free breeding habitat for wood frogs, salamanders and other species. They developed criteria to help classify ephemeral ponds and rank their relative importance based on abundance of breeding amphibians, lack of invasive species, and other factors. Their information informs DNR master planning and can be used throughout the state to help safeguard these valuable wetlands, says Rich Staffen, one of the conservation biologists working on the project
Generally speaking, ephemeral ponds provide habitat for a diverse collection of invertebrates, amphibians and plant life, including wood frogs, blue-spotted salamanders, fairy shrimp, turtles, dragonflies, damselflies, pond snails, water sow bugs, smartweeds and orange jewelweed.
Ephemeral ponds are among Wisconsin's three dozen distinct wetland communities. Wisconsin has lost half of its original 10 million acres of wetlands. Remaining wetlands are very important for Wisconsin's native and rare species: 32% of the state's endangered or threatened species are wetland dependent.
Learn more about Wisconsin's wetland communities and enjoy a new series of videos (exit DNR) from our partners at the Wisconsin Wetlands Association to celebrate American wetlands month and the benefits wetlands provide.