Yesterday, I collected adult damselflies at a vernal pond. Because of a lack of rain, this pond was only a few inches deep and will probably be dry within the week. The animals that still have not metamorphosed were all concentrated in the small puddle left in the bottom of the basin. Lestes damselflies, Ambystoma salamanders, Dytiscus beetles, Rana and Hyla tadpoles, Corixus waterboatmen, and Notonecta backswimmers all teemed in this ever-shrinking pond.
When the pond dries, most of these animals will die. Only the waterboatmen and backswimmers escape, because they can fly away. The rest will be left to dehydrate on the cracking mud.
One’s first instinct may be to rescue these organisms by filling the pond back with water – get a fire truck and dump in 10,000 gallons of water so they don’t have to die. There’s only one problem with that solution. Doing so over and over every year this pond would dry would mean that this was not a vernal pond anymore. Consequently, the species in this pond would eventually go extinct in this pond, because the ecology of the pond would be fundamentally altered. These species all have life histories that are best adapted to living in this ephemeral environment, and a consequence of this is that in some years, many individuals die because of pond drying. If the pond is prevented from drying, a new set of species would be able to invade and outcompete these species.
Thus, by allowing nature to take its course, these species will persist.
Are there lessons to be learned from not always acting on our human nature to want to fix or manage nature?
I think so.