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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Food Webs of the Delta, Suisun Bay, and Suisun Marsh: An Update on Current Understanding and Possibilities for Management


This paper reviews and highlights recent research findings on food web processes since an earlier review by Kimmerer et al. (2008). We conduct this review within a conceptual framework of the Delta–Suisun food web, which includes both temporal and spatial components. The temporal component of our framework is based on knowledge that the landscape has changed markedly from historical conditions. The spatial component of our framework acknowledges that the food web is not spatially static; it varies regionally and across habitat types within regions. The review highlights the idea of a changing baseline with respect to food web function. New research also indicates that interactions between habitat-specific food webs vary across the current landscape. For example, based on early work in the south Delta, the food web associated with submerged aquatic vegetation was thought to provide little support to species of concern; however, data from other regions of the estuary suggest that this conceptual model may not apply across the entire region. Habitat restoration has been proposed as a method of re-establishing historic food web processes to support species of concern. Benefits are likely for species that directly access such restored habitats, but are less clear for pelagic species. Several topics require attention to further improve the knowledge of food webs needed to support effective management, including: (1) synthesis of factors responsible for low pelagic biomass; (2) monitoring and research on effects of harmful algal blooms; (3) broadening the scope of long-term monitoring; (4) determining benefits of tidal wetland restoration to species of concern, including evaluations of interactions of habitat-specific food webs; and (5) interdisciplinary analysis and synthesis. The only certainty is that food webs will continue to change in response to the changes in the physical environment and new species invasions.

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