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Grants at Work: Sandspurs v. Black Skimmer

Sandspurs: the bane of the beachgoers existence.

But an FWC study, in conjunction with Audubon and Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve funded by our Foundation, may prove these stickers are more than just annoying to humans; they could be cause for alarm for the black skimmer bird. The project will investigate a large multi-year mortality event affecting black skimmer juveniles in southwest Florida, possibly linked to bacterial infections spurred by sandspur punctures.

Black skimmers, a state-threatened species, nest in large colonies of over several hundred birds on Florida’s shores. Their nesting season typically lasts from early May through September.

In 2020 and 2021, a high rate of mortality attributed to bacterial sepsis was observed in hatch-year black skimmers at breeding colonies in southwest Florida. The disease spread to a second site in 2021. The young birds at all affected locations had one thing in common: they suffered from sandspur punctures. Many presented with swollen feet that made it difficult to walk.

The study aims to sample birds and the environment to identify the cause of the mortality event and develop mitigation strategies. The grant funds requested amount to $33,200.00, which was fully funded by our Conserve Wildlife license plate grants.

The primary outcomes of the project include identifying the pathogen(s) responsible for the mortality of black skimmer juveniles, determining their presence in the environment, and developing strategies to reduce the risk of future mortalities. The results will be measured through the characterization of microbial assemblages, comparison of mortality rates between affected and reference sites, and correlation analysis between health metrics and environmental factors.

You can support work like this by purchasing a Conserve Wildlife license plate. Match your plate to your passion by viewing our selection of specialty plates here.

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