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Sentinels of Climate Change Investigates Climate Change Impacts to Key Wildlife and Habitats

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Saltmarsh sparrow nestlings.

Saltmarsh sparrow nestlings.

In 2012, the Study funded UConn scientists Chris S. Elphick and Min T. Huang to investigate climate change impacts on key wildlife and ecosystem resources in Long Island Sound. Their project, Sentinels of Climate Change: Coastal Indicators of Wildlife and Ecosystem Change in Long Island Sound, is ideally suited for a climate change pilot program.


Chris Elphick, a research scientist at University of Connecticut at the Barn Island Wildlife Management Area.

Elphick and Huang’s research addresses several of the key sentinels identified in the sentinel monitoring strategy, including the responses of critical and sensitive habitats to climate change. The project will also identify how changes in these habitats, including salt marshes and tidal flats, impact the population and behavior patterns of key bird species. The project effectively makes use of existing data and resources, while supplementing those efforts with the collection of additional monitoring data.

“Long Island Sound is likely to see substantial changes over the coming decades,” said Elphick, whose expertise includes the study of the endangered saltmarsh sparrow, a species likely to be affected by sea level rise. “This project will provide a detailed baseline against which to judge future changes. Most importantly, this knowledge will facilitate better, more cost-effective planning for the protection of natural resources.”

As defined in the LISS sentinel monitoring strategy a ‘sentinel’ is “a measurable
variable (physical, biological, or chemical environmental indicator) that is susceptible to some key aspect of climate change.” The study of these sentinels will facilitate appropriate and timely management decisions for the long term health of the Long Island Sound ecosystem. This pilot project is the first of several planned projects that will address climate change impacts to Long Island Sound.
Funding for this project, $193,000, was provided by EPA through the Study, and is
being administered by CTDEEP, which ran a single grant competition on behalf of both states. This project is slated to be completed in 2014.

For more information about the sentinel monitoring program, including
the sentinel monitoring strategy, visit

This article was reprinted from the 2011-2012 Long Island Sound Study Biennial Report.

Return to Long Island Sound Study Climate Change Website

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