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March 29, 2023

Sea level rise along southern Florida’s coast could contribute to a significant decrease in the endangered Cape Sable seaside sparrow population in the next 50 years, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study. This USGS research can help inform natural resource managers as they consider conservation strategies for the federally listed species.

The Cape Sable seaside sparrow only lives in the Everglades, and their population has declined by 63% since the early 1990s to fewer than 2,500 birds. The small bird is a ground-nester with specific habitat needs, limiting its ability to expand into new areas. 

Impacts from sea level rise 

Sea level rise, which is largely driven by climate change, could impact the small bird’s ability to nest and survive. Higher sea levels can lead to flooding, changes in fresh versus salty water and shifts in vegetation that could affect suitable habitat.   

The sparrow is an important part of the Everglades ecosystem and food web. Changes in bird populations can indicate stressors to the environment that could affect other parts of the ecosystem. 

Restoration of the Everglades 

The Everglades attracts more than one million visitors a year from around the world, but climate change, invasive plants and animals and other stressors are damaging the ecosystem and impacting the local economy. Everglades restoration has been ongoing for decades, and consideration of sea level rise impacts in those planning efforts is more recent.  

Cape Sable seaside sparrow
Cape Sable seaside sparrow. Credit: Lori Oberhofer, National Park Service. 

USGS research helps inform management decisions 

The USGS analysis considered both sea level rise projections and how management and restoration efforts already underway in the Everglades may impact the sparrow’s habitat. Those efforts include the use of canals, pumps and gates to move water through wetlands and support overall ecosystem health across the region.  

Organizations such as the National Park Service can use this new USGS research to understand how the sparrow is likely to respond to sea level rise and then decide if management actions should be adjusted to meet desired future environmental conditions. This study can inform decisions that balance protecting the many endangered and endemic species in the Everglades, other aspects of the environment and the needs of the local community.     

Learn more about the science  

Read the USGS study at  

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