Changes in vernal pool edaphic settings through mitigation at the project and landscape scale

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Abstract

Vernal pool mitigation is a highly controversial process that has been frequently criticized for its inability to adequately replicate the ecosystem functions of the original intact wetlands. We analyzed past mitigation practices in two rapidly growing counties in California's Great Central Valley to determine if mitigation procedures are re-arranging the vernal pool landscape by substituting more common or less ecologically significant pool types (as defined by soil type and geomorphology) for rarer or ecologically richer pool types. Results indicate that most development projects impacting vernal pools conduct at least a portion of their mitigation requirements at a site with similar edaphic settings. However, when examined at a landscape-scale across all development projects, the more common edaphic settings such as Northern Hardpan and Low Terrace pools are increasing while more rare types such as Northern Claypan and Volcanic Mudflow pools are decreasing. Results also show that Drainageway pools, a less-specialized pool type with generally lower species richness, are becoming more common through mitigation. These results are confirmed by an analysis of landscape diversity, which showed that overall landscape diversity was lower at mitigation sites than at project sites. Despite these results, the ecological significance of vernal pool mitigation practices remains unclear for several reasons. The lack of maps showing exact locations of vernal pools at project sites make it difficult to precisely determine vernal pool acreage and distribution among edaphic settings. Additionally, more research is needed to determine precise relationships between edaphic settings and species distributions and the effects of mitigation area management practices on species distribution and persistence.

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