Q: How were California’s vernal pools impacted by this year’s winter storms?
A: Vernal pools are a type of temporary wetland that support many native animal and plant species in our state including the California tiger salamander, vernal pool fairy shrimp and annual plants such as goldfields, downingia and succulent owl’s clover. Vernal pools are found in locations throughout the state including the San Francisco Bay Area, Central Valley and coastal terraces in Southern California. An important quality of vernal pools is their hard underground layer which prevents water from draining downward into subsoils. Because of this underground layer, vernal pools are typically filled with water during the rainy season. In springtime, water gradually evaporates until pools become dry in summer and fall. Colorful displays of vernal pool wildflowers are often visible in spring as pools dry. Native species have adapted to this unique annual cycle of inundation, gradual evaporation and dryness.
Large storm events, like this year’s series of atmospheric rivers, typically fill pools to their maximum level which causes excess water to spill into adjacent areas. The resulting assemblage of plants can vary from year to year depending on when and for how long the vernal pools were filled with water. No two years are the same. Some vernal pool plant species may do well during wet seasons, and some may do better in years that are less wet. Many annual plants have seeds that can remain dormant for years, which is an adaptation that allows them to survive extended drought periods and flourish in wet years like this one. Additionally, increased precipitation can boost food resources and improve breeding and rearing habitat for wildlife.
Q: I enjoyed reading about the wolverine that was observed in the Eastern Sierra. What type of follow-up work does CDFW do to learn more about the animal?
A: Yes, CDFW confirmed last month that multiple sightings of what is believed to be the same wolverine occurred in Inyo, Mono and Tuolumne counties. The detections are exciting given that only two wolverines have been confirmed in California during the last 100 years. CDFW is conducting follow-up field work in the vicinity of the sightings. Our scientists and field staff set up remote cameras with bait and scent lures intended to attract the wolverine. We also set up hair snares to collect samples for genetic analysis. Additionally, we scoured the sighting areas for tracks and scat. The goal is to obtain genetic samples from the wolverine so we can determine its sex and potentially where it originated from.
Identifying fish species
Q: I’m a new angler and can’t tell fish species apart. Does CDFW offer a guide that I can print or buy?
A: CDFW’s Marine Region has a comprehensive Fish and Shellfish Identification web page which includes species identification information for many common recreational species. Additional information can be found on the Marine Species Portal which offers species information and data on habitat types and food sources.
For freshwater (inland) fish in California, there’s plenty of great information on CDFW’s Inland Sport Fishing web page. We suggest looking up lakes or areas where you’ll be fishing ahead of time to determine which species occur there. You can then study up on those species before heading out to fish. This approach will help you choose proper tackle and assist in correctly identifying species once you catch them.
UC Davis’ California Fish Website is another valuable resource with information on various native and non-native species found in California’s bodies of freshwater.
In addition to the options above, there are quite a few apps you can download to a smartphone to help you identify species while in the field.
For additional resources for new anglers and hunters visit CDFW’s R3 web page.
If you have a question you would like to see answered in the California Outdoors Q and A column, email it to CalOutdoors@wildlife.ca.gov.