We Are Tropics: Matthew Morris

The danger of extinction for the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow is unfortunately within reach. North America’s most critically endangered bird species, residing in the dry prairie of central Florida, is approaching plunging numbers with close to 10 pairs left in the wild. A sense of urgency to save its life, lies directly with us.

FIU Tropics master’s student, Matthew Morris, is working to prevent the extinction of these sparrows. He is currently working with the Tropical Conservation Institute (TCI), a partnership between FIU and the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation (RSCF), in a high-impact program to aid in the conservation of this endangered species. The sparrow program aims to develop captive-breeding, build a robust flock, and ultimately reintroduce the birds back to the wild.

Morris’ work focuses heavily on husbandry management. Specifically, he is attempting to build a genetically diverse and stable captive sparrow population. With the guidance of assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, Alessandro Catenazzi, he prepares diets, monitors their health, and helps screen for any possible disease. In addition, he works with Dr. Paul Reillo, TCI co-director and RSCF director, who is optimistic these birds can be restored and released back safely.

So far, the sparrow has no problem with reproduction, but the species still struggles with habitat loss, pressures from agriculture, fire ants and disease. Determining the factors that are pushing this species towards exaction may be key for the health of the entire ecosystem.

“Species richness plays a vital role in ecosystem productivity, so if the foundation gets ruined, it will ultimately collapse.”

Matthew Morris

According to Morris, there is hope for the sparrows and other critically endangered species, “If we get involved and apply science to make a difference in what’s going on.”

To learn about the sparrow project, and other applied conservation projects, visit the Tropical Conservation Institute.