Saltmarsh Songbird Genetics Study

two women looking at a small bird

A central problem in conservation biology is properly identifying “at risk” populations to effectively preserve biodiversity and maintain a species’ ability to cope with changing environmental conditions. Taxonomy plays a crucial role in this process by identifying distinct units for conservation attention. Taxonomic uncertainties can have serious ramifications on conservation prioritization, listing status, and in turn funding allocation that may be crucial to species survival.

Currently, five recognized subspecies of seaside sparrow (Ammodramus maritimus) are resident in the marshes of Florida: Scott’s seaside sparrow (A.m. peninsulae), Wakulla seaside sparrow (A.m. juncicola), MacGillivray’s seaside sparrow (A. m. macgillivraii), Louisiana seaside sparrow (A. m. fisheri) and the Critically Endangered Cape Sable seaside sparrow (A. m. mirabilis). Genetics studies in the late 1980s revealed significant phylogenetic differences between gulf and Atlantic populations, but the Florida Gulf Coast subspecies are not well studied.

In partnership with evolutionary biologists at UF, FWC’s Seaside Sparrow Genetics project is utilizing cutting-edge genetic sequencing techniques to improve management priorities for these birds. The sequence data is being used along with morphometric and vocalization data to create an updated phylogeny for this species. Information about genetic diversity within the sampled populations is also being generated.