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Life on the Edge: The Unique Evolutionary History of Salt Marsh Sparrows in the San Francisco Bay Area and Their Persistence in a Human-dominated Environment

August 12, 2021 @ 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm

Salt marshes lay at the edge of the land and sea with animals in these habitats exposed to the pressures of both realms. This is especially true for sparrows breeding in California’s coastal marshes where they must cope with high salinity and daily tidal flooding. Adaptations to these challenges drive divergence from freshwater-adapted relatives and the evolution of highly unique populations. However, these specializations also leave these species uniquely vulnerable to the ever increasing human pressures on coastal habitats. Come learn how genomics and natural history collections are being integrated to study life on the edge in these salt marsh birds and document population responses to human development of the California coastline.
Phred Benham is a post-doctoral researcher at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California, Berkeley. Inspired by a childhood fascination with birds, he has pursued a career in ornithology. He received his B.Sc. from Louisiana State University, M.Sc. from University of New Mexico, Ph.D. from the University of Montana, and has studied birds around the world. He has broad interests in how birds have evolved and diversified into all the amazing species we share the world with today. In particular, he tries to understand the mechanisms that allow birds to persist in harsh, physiologically challenging environments, like the salt marshes of San Francisco Bay.
This talk is recommended for high school and up. Please register – the Zoom link will be sent in the confirmation. If you have any questions, please contact Sirena Lao, Environmental Education and Outreach Specialist, at
This program is possible thanks to SFBBO donors, with additional support from Cargill. To help keep these events going, we hope you’ll consider making a suggested donation of $5 or more if you can. Your tax-deductible donation helps us make these events available to the public and engage broad audiences with birds, nature, science, and conservation. You may donate in increments of $5 below, click here to donate a different amount, or contact us for other ways to donate.


August 12, 2021
5:00 pm - 6:00 pm


San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory
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Your Name (this will not appear on the event listing)
Danya Winterman


Online event
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