Mice in the Middle: Conserving periaquatic mammals caught between sea level rise and urban development in coastal marshes

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Katie Smith

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Worldwide, coastal wetlands are being pinched between sea level rise and coastal development. Resilience of coastal wetlands will require conservation of the full ecosystem, and marsh mammals receive little consideration. Perhaps because they are cryptic, or have relatively little economic value, marsh mammals are understudied, though they are one of the most vulnerable groups of wildlife in our increasingly isolated, fragmented, and inundated coastal wetlands. While fish and reptiles can swim, and birds can fly across the miles of open water that separate urban marsh patches, a mammal in an isolated, drowning marsh is unlikely to be able to disperse. One such species is the salt marsh harvest mouse (Reithrodontomys raviventris). Found only in the San Francisco Estuary, this marsh obligate is at risk of extinction due to sea level rise. While the primary strategy of creating high tide refugia for this species has been to build habitat on the landward edge of marshes, my current work indicates that they can be excluded from using this “upland” habitat through competition with more aggressive rodents. Decades of habitat enhancement for R. raviventris with little investigation of efficacy have left us largely unprepared to effectively conserve the mouse from sea level rise. However, our new data offer clues of how we might correct our course by creating habitat features that are resilient to sea level rise and reduce competition among mammals. For the mouse, this will likely include a mix of features from woody wrack, deep-marsh trellises, or even artificial floating islands.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program