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Christopher R. Field
Postdoctoral Fellow
National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC)
University of Maryland
The Polar Bear of the Salt Marsh? 

Polar bears are an iconic symbol of climate change, but regionally relevant examples of susceptible biota are needed to highlight how global forces impact local environments. In this interrupted case study, students follow a young naturalist as she explores why saltmarsh sparrows are increasingly rare in coastal wetlands of the northeastern United States. In small groups, students diagram how sea-level rise may alter saltmarsh sparrow habitat and analyze a graph to determine if there is evidence to support sea-level rise. The social implications of rising sea levels induced by climate change can also be explored with an optional jigsaw activity. Students who successfully complete this case study will integrate key concepts related to sea level rise, interpret scientific data and draw conclusions about environmental change, and evaluate alternative management decisions. Originally developed for an undergraduate ecology course, the case could easily be adapted by college or high school instructors for an introductory biology or an environmental science course.