The Florida Everglades support a rich population of wading birds – white ibis, wood storks, and spoonbills.

Mark Cook of the South Florida Water Management District says the birds depend on the Everglades’ alternating sawgrass ridges and sloughs.

“You have these ridges and these grooves running sort of parallel to one another,” he says.

During the wet season, water covers much of the marsh, and fish spawn across a wide area. But during the dry season, the water recedes and the fish move into the sloughs.

Cook says that for the birds, this concentrates the prey into higher densities, so they have easy pickings right when they need to feed their growing chicks.

But he warns that climate change could alter the landscape and make it harder for the birds to forage. Warm, dry conditions could make the sawgrass ridges dry out and collapse – flattening the marsh. The sloughs would then fill with cattails instead of fish.

The Everglades are already degraded by urban development and agriculture, which have interrupted the flow of water across the landscape.

“So a major goal of restoration is getting that water back into the Everglades,” Cook says.

And he says climate change makes this restoration especially urgent.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.