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Key environmental factors for the conservation of large branchiopods in farmland vernal pools — a case from a Central European diversity hotspot

Gołdyn, Bartłomiej, Kowalczewska-Madura, Katarzyna, Barałkiewicz, Danuta
Anostraca, Laevicaudata, Lepidurus, Tetracerus, acidification, agricultural land, agricultural watersheds, aquatic invertebrates, ecology, environmental factors, heavy metals, monitoring, nutrient content, pH, phosphorus content, pollution, ponds, sediments, statistical analysis, temperate zones, vernal pools, water quality, Mediterranean region, Poland
Large branchiopod crustaceans are among the most threatened freshwater invertebrates of the world. They are regarded as a flagship group in the conservation of temporary waters, and knowledge of their ecology and conservation has developed rapidly in recent years, especially in the Mediterranean region. Little is known, however, about population functioning in species associated with vernal pools in cooler temperate areas, despite recent data showing a significant decline in their localities. The present study was conducted in western Poland, on a cluster of vernal pools known to host a Central European diversity hotspot of large branchiopods. We collected data on water and sediment quality, as well as hydroperiod length, to determine their effect on the occurrence of four large branchiopod species present in the ponds during our samplings: Eubranchipus grubii (Anostraca), Lynceus brachyurus (Laevicaudata), Cyzicus tetracerus (Spinicaudata) and Lepidurus apus (Notostraca). According to the statistical analyses, the presence or absence of particular species was affected by hydroperiod length, heavy metal content in the sediments of the marginal zone of the pond, total water phosphorus content, and pH value. Since previous studies show that deep and relatively small kettle-hole ponds seem to be the most vulnerable to human-induced changes in water nutrient contents and acidification, large branchiopod populations of this type of pools should be the first target for monitoring and active forms of protection, with the aim of maintaining the good water quality. Shallow shore-bursting type ponds are subject to increased heavy metal contamination and require activities reducing the influx of these elements from their agricultural catchment. Possible forms of protection are suggested, and the use of large branchiopods as an umbrella group in temporary waters of temperate climate is also discussed.