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RINHS Presentation Abstract

A Five-Year Study of the Demographics and Breeding Ecology of the Saltmarsh Sparrow in Upper Narragansett Bay 

  • Deirdre E. Robinson, Saltmarsh Sparrow Research Initiative

  • Steven E. Reinert, Saltmarsh Sparrow Research Initiative

Presentation at the Rhode Island Natural History Survey (RINHS) Conference

November 15, 2019

The Atlantic Coast joint Venture (ACJV)—a regional partnership of 16 state wildlife agencies with a mission of conserving coastal bird populations—has identified the Saltmarsh Sparrow (SALS) as one of two of the coastal species most vulnerable to sea-level rise.  They report in their Salt Marsh Bird Conservation Plan a 9% annual decline in SALS numbers along the Atlantic Coast during recent decades, with an even higher rate of 12.2% specified for the New England states.  In concert with ACJV conservation efforts, and with state and local agencies in Rhode Island, Rhode Island Natural History Survey (unpublished report) recognizes the critical vulnerability of salt marshes to sea-level rise, and has invested substantial resources in developing methods for quantitatively assessing salt-marsh communities for their resilience to the more frequent inundations that will result from sea-level rise, and habitat value to wildlife. In 2017 we initiated a five-year project to intensively document aspects of the breeding ecology and demographics of a population of SALS occupying a salt marsh in Warren, RI. During our third year, in 2019, we marked 14 adult females and 20 adult males, and documented the return, since 2017, of 15 marked females, 33 marked males, and 3 SALS banded as nestlings. Thus, in 2019 our 14-ha study-area provided breeding-season habitat for a minimum of 84 adult SALS (63% males). Further, we have documented the fate, microhabitat, and elevation of 85 nests found during the three breeding seasons. SSRI has formed relationships with ACJV, and RINHS, and associated wetlands scientists, and will collaborate with their efforts by providing comprehensive baseline data on SALS habitat-use and demographics to enable validation of their respective efforts to assess habitat quality, gauge SALS population trends, and to, potentially, gauge the effectiveness of habitat management efforts designed to aid salt-marsh-dependent species.

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