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Classification
Scientific Name: Columbia Plateau Vernal Pool
Unique Identifier: CES304.057
Classification Confidence: 2 - Moderate
Image 22114
© Florence Caplow
Summary: This system includes shallow ephemeral waterbodies found in very small (3 m2 to 1 acre) to large depressions (1500 m2 to a square mile, average size of vernal pools is 1600 m2, while average size on non-alkaline playa lakes is 5-10 acres) throughout the exposed volcanic scablands of the Columbia Plateau in Washington, Oregon, and northern Nevada. Most of these pools and lakes are located on massive basalt flows exposed by Pleistocene floods; southward they also occur on andesite or rhyodacite caprock. Inundation is highly irregular, sometimes not occurring for several years. Depressions usually (but not always) fill with water during winter and spring. They are generally dry again within 9 months, though in exceptional times they can remain inundated for two years in a row. Water is from rainfall and snowmelt in relatively small closed basins, on average probably no more than 5-15 times the area of the ponds themselves. Because these pools and playas are perched above the general surrounding landscape, they are not generally subject to runoff from major stream systems. They typically have silty clay soils, sometimes with sandy margins. Pools are often found within a mounded or biscuit-swale topography with Artemisia shrub-steppe or rarely Pinus ponderosa savanna. In the northern Columbia Plateau, characteristic species are predominantly annual and diverse. Floristically akin to California vernal pool flora (one-third), however, many of the most abundant species are not reported in Californian pools. The Columbia Plateau vernal pools have many floristic similarities to their California counterparts. In one study, it was found that 34% of the native taxa and 65% of the genera also occurred in a comprehensive listing of California vernal pool. Characteristic species of these vernal pools include Callitriche marginata, Camissonia tanacetifolia, Cuscuta californica var. breviflora, Elatine californica, Elatine chilensis, Elatine rubella, Juncus uncialis, Myosurus minimus, Plagiobothrys spp., Polygonum polygaloides ssp. confertiflorum, Polygonum polygaloides ssp. polygaloides, Psilocarphus brevissimus, Psilocarphus elatior, Psilocarphus oregonus, and Trifolium cyathiferum. Artemisia ludoviciana ssp. ludoviciana can occur on better developed soils. In northern Nevada, most of the species by biomass are perennials and include Polygonum, Rumex, Juncus arcticus ssp. littoralis, Eleocharis, Carex douglasii, Muhlenbergia richardsonis, and Polyctenium species, in addition to Camissonia tanacetifolia and Psilocarphus brevissimus. Endemic plant species Navarretia leucocephala ssp. diffusa and Polyctenium williamsiae may occur.

Classification Approach: International Terrestrial Ecological Systems Classification (ITESC)

Classification Comments: This includes Bjork (1997) vernal pool annual-dominated, vernal pool perennial-dominated and rain pools.



Classifiers

Land Cover Class: Herbaceous Wetland
Spatial Pattern: Small patch
Natural/Seminatural: No
Vegetated ( > 10% vascular cover):
Upland: No
Wetland: Yes
Isolated Wetland: Strictly Isolated

Diagnostic Classifiers
Primary Classifier Secondary Classifier
Depressional Vernal Pool
Impermeable Layer  
1-29-day hydroperiod  
Vernal Pool Mosaic  

Non-diagnostic Classifiers
Primary Classifier Secondary Classifier
Herbaceous  
Mediterranean Mediterranean Xeric-Oceanic
Temperate Temperate Oceanic
Isolated Wetland Strictly Isolated
Consolidated  
Short (50-100 yrs) Persistence  

At-Risk Species Reported for this Ecological System
Scientific Name
  (Common Name)
NatureServe Global Status U.S. Endangered Species Act Status
Ivesia pityocharis
  (Pine Nut Ivesia)
G2  
Juncus uncialis
  (Inch-high Rush)
G3G4  
Myosurus sessilis
  (Sessile Mousetail)
G2  
Polyctenium williamsiae
  (Williams' Combleaf)
G2Q  
Polygonum polygaloides ssp. confertiflorum
  (Dense-flower Knotweed)
G4G5T3T4  

Vegetation Composition (incomplete)
Species Name Rounded Global Status Growth Form Stratum Char-
acter-
istic
Domi-nant Con-stant
Cover Class %
Con-
stancy
%
Camissonia tanacetifolia G5 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
 
 
Psilocarphus brevissimus G4 Flowering forb Herb (field)    
 
 
Carex douglasii G5 Graminoid Herb (field)    
 
 
Muhlenbergia richardsonis G5 Graminoid Herb (field)    
 
 


Animal Species Reported for this Ecological System
Scientific Name
  (Common Name)
Global Status U.S. Endangered Species Act Status Charact-
eristic
Exotic
Spea intermontana
  (Great Basin Spadefoot)
G5      


Distribution
Color legend for Distribution Map
Nation: United States
United States Distribution: NV, OR, WA, WYpotentially occurs
Nation: Canada
Canadian Province Distribution: BCpotentially occurs
Global Range: This system is restricted to the northern Columbia Plateau ecoregion commonly called the Columbia Basin and perhaps the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, and to the western Great Basin.

Biogeographic Divisions
Division Code and Name Primary Occurrence Status
304-Inter-Mountain Basins C: Confident or certain

The Nature Conservancy's Conservation Ecoregions
Code Name Occurrence Status
6 Columbia Plateau Confident or certain
68 Okanagan Predicted or probable

MRLC 2000 Mapzones
Code Name Occurrence Status
7 Cascade Mountain Range Confident or certain
8 Grande Coulee Basin of the Columbia Plateau Confident or certain
9 Blue Mountain Region Predicted or probable
18 Snake River Plain Confident or certain

National Mapping
ESLF Code (Ecological System Lifeform): 9231

West Landfire Legend: No
East Landfire Legend: No

Authors/Contributors
Element Description Edition Date: 10Jan2014
Element Description Author(s): R. Crawford, J. Morefield and G. Kittel

Ecological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).


References
  • Barbour, M. G. 1998. Forward. In: C. W. Witham, editor. Ecology, conservation and management of vernal pool ecosystems. Proceedings from a 1996 Conference, California Native Plant Society, Sacramento.

  • Barbour, M. G., A. I. Solomeshch, R. F. Holland, C.W. Witham, R. L. Macdonald, S. S. Cilliers, J. A. Molina, J. J. Buck, and J. M. Hillman. 2005. Vernal pool vegetation of California: Communities of long-inundated deep habitats. Phytocoenologia 35:177-200.

  • Barbour, M. G., A. Solomeshch, C. Witham, R. Holland, R. Macdonald, S. Cilliers, J. A. Molina, J. Buck, and J. Hillman. 2003. Vernal pool vegetation of California: Variation within pools. Madroņo 50:129-146.

  • Bjork, C. R. 1997. Vernal pools of the Columbia Plateau of eastern Washington. Report to the Washington Field Office of The Nature Conservancy. 29 pp. plus 7 appendices.

  • Bjork, C. R. 2002. A new subspecies of Navarretia leucocephala (Polemoniaceae) from vernal pools in eastern Washington. Madroņo 49:165-168.

  • Bjork, C. R., and P. W. Dunwiddie. 2004. Floristics and distribution of vernal pools on the Columbia Plateau of eastern Washington. Rhodora 106(928):327-347.

  • Brown, W. 1999. Evaluation of cattle grazing effects on floristic composition in eastern Washington vernal pools. M.S. thesis, University of Washington, Seattle.

  • Comer, P., D. Faber-Langendoen, R. Evans, S. Gawler, C. Josse, G. Kittel, S. Menard, C. Nordman, M. Pyne, M. Reid, M. Russo, K. Schulz, K. Snow, J. Teague, and R. White. 2003-present. Ecological systems of the United States: A working classification of U.S. terrestrial systems. NatureServe, Arlington, VA.

  • Crowe, E. A., A. J. Busacca, J. P. Reganold, and B. A. Zamora. 1994. Vegetation zones and soil characteristics in vernal pools in the channeled scabland of eastern Washington. Great Basin Naturalist 54(3):234-247.

  • Dalton, M. M., P. W. Mote, and A. K. Snover, editors. 2013. Climate change in the Northwest: Implications for our landscapes, waters, and communities. Island Press, Washington, DC.

  • Dlugolecki, L. 2010. A characterization of seasonal pools in central Oregon's high desert. M.Sc. thesis, Oregon State University, Corvallis. 76 pp. [http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/xmlui/handle/1957/15038]

  • Hanes, T., and L. Stromberg. 1998. Hydrology of vernal pools on non-volcanic soils in the Sacramento Valley. In: C. W. Witham, editor. Ecology, conservation and management of vernal pool ecosystems. Proceedings from a 1996 Conference, California Native Plant Society, Sacramento.

  • Keeley, J. E., and P. H. Zedler. 1998a. Evolution of life histories in Pinus. Pages 219-250 in: D. M. Richardson, editor. Ecology and biogeography of Pinus. The Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.

  • Pollak, O., and T. Kan. 1998. The use of prescribed fire to control invasive exotic weeds at Jepson Prairie Preserve. In: C. W. Witham, editor. Ecology, conservation and management of vernal pool ecosystems. Proceedings from a 1996 Conference, California Native Plant Society, Sacramento.

  • Rocchio, Joe. Personal communication. Ecologist. Washington Natural Heritage Program, Department of Natural Resources, Olympia, WA.

  • Solomeshch, A., M. G. Barbour, and R. F. Holland. 2007. Chapter 15: Vernal pools. In: M. G. Barbour, T. Keeler-Wolf, and A. A. Schoenherr, editors. Terrestrial vegetation of California, third edition. University of California Press.

  • WNHP [Washington Natural Heritage Program]. 2018. Unpublished data files. Washington Natural Heritage Program, Department of Natural Resources, Olympia, WA.

  • Wills, R. 2006. Central Valley bioregion. Pages 295-320 in: N. G. Sugihara, J. W. van Wagtendonk, K. E. Shaffer, J. Fites-Kaufman, and A. E. Thode, editors. Fire in California's ecosystems. University of California Press, Berkeley.


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