Words From Researchers: Mark Urban

By Allison O’Donnell, Written Communications Specialist, CT IWR

In addition to having lots of permanent water bodies, New England is home to many seasonal ponds that dry out during parts of the year. These diverse ecosystems are likely to be affected by climate change, so the CT IWR has funded University of Connecticut’s Dr. Mark Urban to research the effects of climate change on these systems.

The ponds in our region are particularly vulnerable to climate change. In addition to higher temperatures, our region is seeing changes in precipitation patterns, including more high-intensity storms and droughts. Species such as dragonflies, frogs and spotted salamanders need the habitat these ponds provide during specific periods in their life cycles.

Since 2019, Urban has been researching how water retention in these temporary ponds changes on a seasonal basis. The goal is to be able to predict how changes in water levels will impact the species that populate these ecosystems.

“The more we know, the more we can do to mitigate these [effects] and protect biodiversity,” said Urban. Research has shown that if water levels recede while a species is still reliant on the pond’s many resources, they will be left vulnerable to predators. Prediction of water changes gives these scientists enough time to design strategies to protect the at-risk species.

“The hydrology of these ponds is very important because many organisms have a certain time they need to be in the pond in order to develop,” said Urban.

Though these small creatures may not seem important, they play a large role in our local environment and Urban says that the impact could be greater than expected.

“It is the disturbances of these food webs that can lead to dramatic changes in the entire system,” said Urban.

“I think that’s a lesson for how climate change will affect many systems that are important for human economy, culture and health.”