Program Description

SHARP mapThe Saltmarsh Habitat & Avian Research Program (SHARP) was founded by a group of academic, governmental, and non-profit collaborators to provide critical information for the conservation of tidal-marsh birds.

OUR GOAL in the short term is to set priorities across the Northeast (see figure to the right, or see the high resolution spatial data for our survey locations or demographic study sites) for the long-term conservation of tidal marsh birds.  Our program provides a consistent platform for monitoring the health of North America’s tidal-marsh bird community and the marshes they inhabit in the face of sea-level rise and upland development.

JOB OPENINGS:  Check back in early 2016

STATE OF THE PROGRAM SUMMARY July 2014 ~ SHARP Quick Sheet (262)

SHARP overview report 2014 (89)
SHARP overview report 2013 (152)
SHARP overview report 2012 (701)

SHARP overview report 2011 (1001)


Willet in Flight

Willet in flight across a New England marsh (photo by M. Correll)

Global & Local Importance of North American Tidal Marsh – Tidal marshes form the dominant transition zone between terrestrial and marine communities in eastern North America.  The eastern North American coast alone possesses over one-third of the global extent of tidal marsh and the highest level of vertebrate biodiversity and endemism (those species found in one location and no where else) of any tidal marsh region worldwide.  These wetlands are home to 83 breeding vertebrate species, 22% of which occur only in tidal marshes or possess subspecies found only in tidal marshes (Greenberg and Maldonado 2006).  Tidal marshes are therefore primarily a North American resource, and it is a primary North American responsibility to conserve the ecosystem’s global flora and fauna.

Risk of Ecosystem Loss and Degradation – The global importance of and local services provided by tidal marshes may justify their preservation, but it is their high risk of degradation and loss that is the call for conservation action. Tidal marshes compete for space with (and are downstream of) some of the continent’s most highly developed areas.  This leaves the ecosystem open not only to outright loss, but also to the severe degradation of all remaining habitat.  Along the highly developed eastern U.S. seaboard, tidal marshes are found at the mouths of some of the country’s most human-impacted drainages (e.g. the Susquehanna, Delaware, Hudson, and Connecticut Rivers) and along the shipping routes of some of the busiest ports (e.g. Norfolk, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston).  There are no pristine tidal marshes left in this region.  By the late 20th century, 90% of northeastern salt marshes had been ditched for mosquito control to some degree (Daiber 1986).

Saltmarsh Sparrow

Saltmarsh Sparrow in New Jersey marsh (photo by R. Kern)

Tidal marshes are also threatened by sea-level rise.  Over the last century sea level has risen ~2 mm/year (although local effects vary: Douglas 1991), and this change has altered marsh vegetation and caused marsh loss across the Atlantic seaboard.  Sea-level rise is projected to accelerate over the next century with predicted tidal marsh losses of 0.5-1.5% each year (Greenberg 2006).  Small sea-level increases could push tidal marsh bird populations to a threshold beyond which rapid declines are likely.

Risk of Species & Endemic Population Loss – Many organizations recognize these risks as threats to tidal marsh birds.  Two species are “red-listed” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN); six are on the American Bird Conservancy/National Audubon Society’s Watch List; and 10 are considered priority species by Partners In Flight.  Overall, 26 bird species that breed in or use these habitats during the breeding season are listed as “Species of Greatest Conservation Need” by states along the eastern seaboard of the United States.


Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Science Foundation, or any other funding agency.

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