Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Salinity Inhabited by Age-0 Splittail (Pogonichthys macrolepidotus) as Determined by Direct Field Observation and Retrospective Analyses with Otolith Chemistry


Splittail (Pogonichthys macrolepidotus) is a fish species of special concern that is endemic to the San Francisco Estuary. It has been generally accepted that spawning and juvenile rearing occurs during spring in freshwater habitats upstream of the estuary. However, the recent discovery of a genetically distinct population of splittail in the relatively brackish Petaluma and Napa rivers has challenged this assumption. We used a combination of field observations and high resolution sampling of otolith 87Sr:86Sr ratios to identify the salinity inhabited by young age-0 splittail in the Sacramento, San Joaquin, Napa, and Petaluma rivers. Individual age-0 splittail, two to three months old, were observed in the Napa and Petaluma rivers in salinity as high as 8.5 ppt and 14.1 ppt, respectively, whereas salinity in the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers was always <1.0 ppt. Otolith 87Sr:86Sr ratios corresponding to the first month of life suggested that individual splittail in all regions mostly inhabited freshwater, although several individuals from the Napa and Petaluma rivers inhabited brackish water up to about 10 ppt. In most instances, there was little intra-individual variability in 87Sr:86Sr signals, suggesting individuals remained within the natal salinity zone during the first month of life. The exceptions were two fish, one each from the Napa and Petaluma rivers, that appeared to move from freshwater natal to brackish rearing habitats. The apparent ability of age-0 splittail to rear in brackish water almost immediately after being born is one of the fundamental mechanisms supporting splittail production in the Napa and Petaluma rivers.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View