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Influence of water depth on nest success of the endangered Cape Sable seaside sparrow in the Florida Everglades


Julie L. Lockwood, Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources, 14 College Farm Road, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ 08901 USA.


The restoration of the Florida Everglades rests largely on the ability of managers to re-create a more natural hydrologic regime throughout the remaining natural areas. The Cape Sable seaside sparrow, an endangered subspecies endemic to the freshwater marl prairies of the Everglades, has suffered from changes in the depth and the timing of water flows through its habitat. However, it remains unclear what temporal and spatial aspects of water inputs (both managed and natural) affect nesting success. We monitored 429 nests in two of the six extant sparrow subpopulations over 10 breeding seasons and a variety of water levels. Using an information-theoretic approach, we find that nests initiated early in the breeding season experience substantially higher success rates than those initiated later. We suggest that this seasonal effect is due to a change in predator abundance or activity levels as the season progresses, which are tied to the increase in water levels that accompany the onset of the wet season. In addition, nest success is influenced to a lesser degree by where sparrows choose to nest across the landscape, the height of base water levels within the sparrow's breeding season and the height of water levels when nests are active. Our observation of extreme variability in nest success over the span of a single season suggests that successful late-season breeding, although shown to be important for population recovery, is a rare event. Management actions that maximize the success of late-season broods or increase the number of early broods are warranted, but the ecosystem implications of such actions are poorly understood.