Loss of coastal saltmarshes in southern California has been estimated at 75-90% since presettlement times. The remaining wetlands are mostly fragmented and degraded, and most frequently have harsh edges adjacent to urban landscapes. Non-migratory Belding's Savannah Sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis beldingi) and Light-footed Clapper Rails (Rallus longirostris levipes) are endemic to saltmarshes in southern California and Baja California, Mexico. Population sizes of Belding's Savannah Sparrows show a positive relationship with saltmarsh area, but few large wetland fragments remain within their range in California. Belding's Savannah Sparrows are sensitive to fragmentation and isolation, with small isolated marshes acting as population sinks. In addition, this subspecies shows low genetic variability, limited dispersal, and small effective population sizes. Light-footed Clapper Rails are habitat specialists, found in marshes with good tidal flushing that support California cordgrass (Spartina foliosa) habitats. Light-footed Clapper rails also show low genetic variability and limited dispersal and the remnant populations of clapper rails are relatively isolated from one another. Large wetland complexes may serve as population sources for both species, while small, isolated marshes may act as population sinks but more research is needed to estimate and model the dynamics of these two metapopulations. Mitigation for wetland loss and restoration projects should not be evaluated simply by presence of rare bird species alone, but instead efforts should be made to determine population sustainability.
Additional publication details
Are southern California's fragmented saltmarshes capable of sustaining endemic bird populations?