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Uncommon habitats, such as this swamp forest dominated by large swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor) trees, may harbor both rare plants and rare animals. Identifying and protecting rare plants is often a good way to locate and protect rare animals. Here, among the tree roots in the shallow ponds of this locally rare vegetation type, two locally scarce salamander species come to mate each spring, and the young hatch and the larvae remain until midsummer. These upland ponds are forested wetlands with a tall swamp white oak canopy near a small north-south drainage divide. Bull Pasture Ponds is also the breeding place and habitat of the larval stage of the scarce Jefferson’s salamander (Ambystoma jeffersonianum) and spotted salamander (A. maculatum).

The vegetation, the right water level, and high-quality water are critical for the survival of the young salamanders. It is important that the water table in the swamp remains high from spring to midsummer to preserve the breeding grounds of the salamanders, but also that the water level fluctuates annually to preserve the swamp white oak. After mating, the adult salamanders, and later the juveniles, return to nearby oak forests for the rest of the season, where they spend most of their time burrowed in the forest floor. There they feed on earthworms, spiders, millipedes, and insects. The oak woods must also be preserved to protect these animals, which migrate along specific pathways and return quite faithfully to the same ponds and forest burrows each year.

Ecological Communities

Perched swamp white oak swamp

A swamp on mineral soils that occurs in a shallow depression on a forested hilltop is a perched water table. The sites are shallow to bedrock with an impermeable clay layer. The swamp may be flooded in spring and dry by late summer. The dominant tree is swamp white oak, which may form a nearly pure, but open canopy stand. In better drained areas, the canopy may include scarlet oak, white oak, red maple, white pine, and pitch pine. Scattered ericaceous shrubs are present in the open understory and include black huckleberry, highbush blueberry, lowbush blueberry, and maleberry. Hummocks around bases of trees and shrubs often have Sphagnum mosses. The ground cover may be sparse.

Appalachian oak-hickory forest

A hardwood forest with more than 60% canopy cover of trees that occurs on well-drained sites, usually on flat hilltops, upper slopes, or south and west facing slopes. Dominant trees include one or more of red oak, white oak, and black oak. Mixed with oaks, are one or more of pignut, shagbark, and sweet pignut hickory. Common associates are white ash, red maple, and hop hornbeam. Small trees include flowering dogwood, witch hazel, shadbush, and choke cherry. Shrubs and groundlayer flora are diverse. Shrubs include maple-leaved viburnum, blueberries, red raspberry, gray dogwood, and beaked hazelnut.

Red maple-hardwood swamp

A swamp that occurs in poorly drained upland depressions usually on acidic muck over clay. The bedrock is usually shale. Red maple or silver maple may dominate alone or with yellow birch. Black ash, white pine and hemlock may also be present. The shrub layer is quite dense and includes spicebush, winterberry, black chokeberry, highbush blueberry, red-osier dogwood, arrowwood, and nannyberry. The herb layer is often dominated by cinnamon fern. Herbs include skunk cabbage, jewelweed, and sedges.

Farm pond/artificial pond

The aquatic community of a small pond constructed on agricultural or residential property. These ponds are often eutrophic and may be stocked with fish.