Fairy shrimp are real and were at Escondido

Photo of the vernal pool in April on Mountain Meadow Preserve. The pool has since dried out./Escondido Creek Conservancy

Escondido Creek Conservancy biological surveyors recently discovered Fairy Shrimp (Branchinecta lindahli) at the Mountain Meadow Preserve near Hidden Meadows.

This elusive species is fairly uncommon in San Diego County due to the loss of preferred habitat — vernal pools. And while they won’t grant you three wishes — most vernal pools in San Diego have been destroyed by urban development — making their discovery is quite magical according to Nathan Serrato, Conservancy volunteer and merketing manager

Vernal pools are small depressions in the earth that fill up with water in the winter months. During that period, they spring to life with rare plants, amphibians, and other aquatic creatures. In this case, the fairy shrimp were found in a road-rut on the preserve that had filled with water this spring six pools total. While they are natural vernal pools, they provided homes to tadpoles, plants, aquatic insects, and fairy shrimp.

“These enchanting creatures are known for their translucent bodies, swimming upside down, and their fascinating life cycle,” Serrato said.

“They only live for about two months which is just enough time for the females to continue their legacy by laying egg,” Serrato said. “With enough rainfall, these eggs typically hatch around December. Although the eggs themselves have been known to last for up to 15 years without hatching, which is great in areas experiencing prolonged droughts.”

San Diego County used to be home to over 28,500 acres of vernal pool habitat in San Diego County. By the year 2001, fewer than 2,400 pools remained due to a rapid increase in development.

Their preservation has become a higher priority in recent years and thanks to the acquisition of Mountain Meadow Preserve by the Conservancy, in partnership with the County of San Diego Department of Parks and Recreation and the United States Navy on behalf of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, these pools will be protected in perpetuity.

The Conservancy hopes to restore these pools and utilize them as part of future education programs. For more information, please visit www.escondidocreek.org and sdparks.org.

Another Conservancy effort on the front-burner is the Missing Lynx Project at Mountain Meadow Preserve. Because of the over 700 individual donations from wonderful people who contributed to help save wild lands for wildlife in North County, the Conservancy and its partners have saved 975 acres in the past four years. The Conservancy now owns or manages 3,100 acres, preserved forever, according to Serrato.

The Mountain Meadow Preserve was protected in September of 2018 and the Sardina Preserve just this past July.  “We have been inspired to see wildlife, including large animals like deer and mountain lion — almost to the day the title was transferred to us — begin to use the Sardina Preserve after the paintball operation was shut down,” Serrato said.. “These animals can now live in peace.”

Connecting wildlands is crucial for wildlife, especially large mammals like mule deer (Odocoileus heminus) and mountain lions (Puma concolor), which typically have home ranges of more than 100 square miles. Successful wildlife corridors provide access to food and other resources, while also improving genetic variation.

Connecting breeding populations of a species increases their ability to adapt to their changing environment, which is especially important as we begin to witness the effects of climate change. We developed the Save 1000 Acres campaign to protect important cornerstone properties. Now, we shift our focus to connecting those properties so animals can move freely between preserved areas.

With mountain lions struggling to find mates as their habitat diminishes, and the California gnatcatcher (Polioptila californica) now on the endangered species list, we are thrilled to welcome them on our preserves—along with bobcats (Lynx rufus), coyotes (Canis latrans), barn owls (Tyto alba), great blue herons (Ardea herodias), and more.

Conservation of these animals is possible, but it requires protecting more land by creating safe passageways between preserved lands, so animals can live without conflict with humans, Serrato said.

For The Missing Lynx campaign, the Conservancy has prioritized land acquisitions in areas that are contiguous to other preserved lands in the Escondido Creek watershed. With your help, we can protect and preserve these “missing lynx” that are vital to the success of our native species so they can live, and live wild.

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