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Fairy Shrimp Found on
Southern Oregon Preserves

©Larry Serpa
Vernal Pool Fairy Shrimp

Agate Desert and Whetstone Savanna Preserves are home to a population of vernal pool fairy shrimp. 
Researchers have discovered a population of vernal pool fairy shrimp (Branchinecta lynchi) on The Nature Conservancy's Agate Desert and Whetstone Savanna Preserves and on nearby Bureau of Land Management land atop the Table Rocks. Federally listed as a threatened species, the freshwater shrimp was not previously known to exist north of Mt. Shasta in California.

The vernal pool fairy shrimp is a 3/4-inch, translucent crustacean with a one-year life cycle and a unique survival strategy. As Darren Borgias, the Conservancy's Southern Oregon ecologist, described it: "They feed and grow in the temporary pools. The adults mate and produce eggs, then perish. Their thick-shelled eggs lie dormant in the dry pond bottoms through summer, surviving to hatch when winter rains return."

Vernal pools are a prominent feature of the Agate Desert landform in the Rogue Valley north of Medford. They provide an important link in the food chain for migrating waterfowl, shorebirds, birds of prey, frogs, toads, salamanders and pollinating insects. A Conservancy study suggests, however, that only 23% -- about 4,700 acres -- of original vernal pool habitat in the Agate Desert remains, and of that, only a fraction -- 100 acres -- is protected on the two Conservancy preserves.

The fairy shrimp was discovered by Southern Oregon University biologist Michael Parker and his students, who were conducting invertebrate surveys for the Oregon Natural Heritage Program.

According to Russell D. Peterson, supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Oregon office, "The discovery of the fairy shrimp underscores the importance of protecting the unique vernal pools in the Agate Desert. Vernal pools have helped migratory birds in the United States maintain strong, healthy populations. We look forward to working with local entities to develop conservation strategies for these important wetlands."

"It's an exciting discovery that adds new information about the diversity of life in vernal pools," said Catherine Macdonald, the Conservancy's Oregon director of conservation programs. "We look forward to working with the Fish and Wildife Service, the local community and other agencies over the next year to address the conservation needs of this species and others in the Agate Desert." 

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