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Photos: Bryan Stokes

Project Goals

The Saltmarsh Sparrow has become symbolic of wildlife that is at risk of extinction due to climate change, essentially the “canary in the coal mine” for species breeding in low-lying coastal habitats.  It is extremely vulnerable to rising tides because it is an "obligate" saltmarsh species, meaning that it can live nowhere else.  Based on studies of sea level rise due to a warming planet, researchers predict the Saltmarsh Sparrow could become extinct by as early as 2040, due to the inundation of its tidal marsh habitat.
The Saltmarsh Sparrow Research Initiative (SALSri) is a five-year program designed to document aspects of Saltmarsh Sparrow breeding and post-breeding ecology so as to fill gaps in our understanding of the species prior to its extinction. We work toward accomplishing this goal by focusing upon four areas:

  • Science – Our field research efforts are guided by two local (East Bay, RI) scientists—Steve Reinert and Deirdre Robinson— who received Master’s degrees in Wildlife Sciences and Biology respectively, from the University of Rhode Island. Together, they have accumulated 50 years of experience studying birds on salt marshes in southeastern New England.  They employ this experience, and their passion for salt-marshes and their resident flora and fauna, in directing the Saltmarsh Sparrow Research Initiative. 

Photo: Bryan Stokes

  • Volunteerism – Meeting our field-research objectives requires a host of volunteer assistants. These efforts rely upon the skilled help of volunteer students, biologists, engineers, and computer analysts. During the first two years of the project, we recruited 26 local volunteers, ranging in age from 10-78 years of age.  We are indebted to these Citizen Scientists whose tasks include assisting with:

    • setting up mist nets in the salt-marsh;

    • safely capturing adult SALS; 

    • color-banding adults and juveniles;

    • locating and monitoring nests and measuring their elevations;

    • plotting locations of color-banded birds.

  • Community and Collaboration – Our work would not be possible without the cooperation of partner organizations:

  • Education and Training – Aside from our principal objective of conducting field research, our goal is to recruit and train students and developing biologists in field-research methodologies. Toward that end, we have:

    • supervised a URI student in completing a research internship;

    • assisted a member of our team in securing a position censusing grassland birds for Emporia State University (Emporia,KS);

    • supporting one of our team members who has recently been hired as an intern in the Banding Lab of the  Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences (Plymouth, MA).

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