A Bird’s Eye View: Understanding saltmarsh degradation through avian population change



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Saltmarshes are dynamic coastal wetlands characterized by zones of halophytic plant species, which grow based on tidal inundation patterns. The high marsh zone provides nesting habitat for several marsh specialist bird species. Specialists rely on the saltmarsh for foraging and nesting. However, this carefully balanced ecosystem is threatened by anthropogenic disturbance and the effects of sea-level rise. This project examines how both specialist and generalist bird populations are responding to these environmental stressors over temporal and spatial scales in order to focus conservation and restoration efforts. I combined data from the 1994-2012 Tidal marsh bird survey, the 2011-2014 Saltmarsh Habitat and Avian Research Program (SHARP) dataset, and marsh zonation data. I found that we are least likely to observe marsh specialists in their breeding grounds using passive survey methods. I found no decrease in unique specialist species from 2011 to 2014 in the high marsh and pool zones; however these data were not sufficient to elucidate shifts in nesting site fidelity over time. Specialist species richness decreased with increasing latitude, indicating that we should focus our conservation efforts on the larger, more continuous saltmarshes in the Southeast Coastal US.


This thesis used data collected by the Saltmarsh Habitat and Avian Research Program


salt marsh, ornithology, sea level rise, birds, climate change