Conservation InSight

Recovery of the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow


The recovery of the endangered Cape Sable seaside sparrow (Ammodramus maritimus mirabilis) is of central concern to the ongoing restoration of the Florida Everglades. The Cape Sable seaside sparrow (CSSS) is a federally-endangered subspecies with a distribution restricted to the seasonally-flooded marl prairies of the Everglades. The loss or degradation of the sparrow’s marl prairie habitat due to past water management actions in South Florida has led to a decline in the population raising major conservation concern.


The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) is the overarching plan to return a more natural quantity, quality, timing and distribution of water (i.e., ‘getting the water right’) to the Everglades. Under this plan, ‘getting the water right’ is thought necessary to facilitate recovery of a suite of threatened species, including the CSSS. With this in mind, long-term research and monitoring on the sparrow has provided key information for both potential measures to help achieve recovery goals and real-time feedback so that managers charged with making seasonal water flow decisions have relevant information to do so. Since 2009, Dr. Tom Virzi has been leading the CSSS monitoring efforts to provide the information necessary to aid in the recovery of this endangered species. In 2018, Dr. Virzi continues to lead this research as the principal investigator for this project with Conservation InSight.

The Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) is the next generation of proposed projects to be implemented under CERP. One goal of CEPP is to identify and plan for projects on land already in public ownership to allow more water to be directed south to the central Everglades, Everglades National Park (ENP) and Florida Bay. Although this project is expected to produce large-scale hydrological benefits, there is also trepidation about its potential impact on endangered species, including the CSSS, whose range is extremely limited and population very small. 

The goal of this project is to continue monitoring of CSSS populations found in ENP, and on adjacent lands managed by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD). With planning and recovery discussions for this endangered species expected to continue as Everglades restoration advances, this project maintains continuity with previous research and monitoring, and evaluates new opportunities for recovery. During 2018, the specific research objectives of this project are: 1) to evaluate the response of CSSS subpopulation E to hydrological changes in the eastern Everglades resulting from the implementation of CEPP; 2) evaluate CSSS response to ENP restoration of an area of woody vegetation surrounded by marl prairie habitat known as the Tomato Patch; 3) conduct a meta-analysis of existing CSSS demographic data and make recommendations for data analysis needs; 4) assess the impact of Hurricane Irma on CSSS populations; and 5) assess the effect of the SFWMD’s C-111 Spreader Canal Project on CSSS subpopulation D located outside the boundary of ENP.