Ecologist says ‘this is the first time we’ve seen the process of drying up happen already in January.’
By Zafrir Rinat | Feb. 6, 2014 | 11:27 AM

The dry winter has nature conservancy groups worried about the fate of winter pools and the wildlife that depend on them for survival. The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel says that many of the pools it monitors either never filled up to begin with or are drying out prematurely.

Of the approximately 25 pools SPNI monitors, 17 are either almost completely dry or drying out rapidly. Usually, however, these pools don’t dry up until April.

“There have been winters in which little rain fell, and then the pools dried up earlier, usually around March,” said Dr. Ofri Gabay, an SPNI ecologist. “But this is the first time we’ve seen the process of drying up happen already in January.”

Most winter pools are small, but they house a rich variety of wildlife, including crustaceans and amphibians. Some of these species require the pools so they can complete their life cycle. Amphibians, for instance, lay eggs in the pools and develop as tadpoles in it; only afterward do they leave and complete their development into adulthood on land.

“This dryness can harm the entire life cycle,” Gabay said. “We’ve already seen tadpoles that dehydrated in several pools.”

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority hasn’t yet conducted its own survey of the pools. But Dr. Dana Milstein, an ecologist with the authority, said large pools on the coastal plain did fill up since they have relatively large drainage basins, and received a great deal of water during December’s big storm.

“The situation of the smaller pools is more difficult, and it’s worrying, especially in the north, which got less rain than the central region,” she said. And the problem will only get worse if the coming weeks don’t bring rain.

The long-term implications of the pools drying out aren’t clear. Milstein and Gabay both noted that droughts lasting several years aren’t uncommon in the Middle East, and the species that live around winter pools are adapted to this situation. But species that are already in danger of extinction and have especially long life cycles, like the Eastern Spadefoot toad, could be at risk, they noted.