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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Wetland Availability and Salinity Concentrations for Breeding Waterfowl in Suisun Marsh, California

  • Author(s): Schacter, Carley R.;
  • Peterson, Sarah H.;
  • Herzog, Mark P.;
  • Hartman, C. Alex;
  • Casazza, Michael L.;
  • Ackerman, Joshua T.
  • et al.

Availability of wetlands with low salinities during the breeding season can influence waterfowl reproductive success and population recruitment. Salinities as low as 2 ppt (3.6 mScm–1) can impair duckling growth and influence behavior, with mortality occurring above 9 ppt (14.8 mScm–1). We used satellite imagery to quantify the amount of available water, and sampled surface water salinity at Grizzly Island, in the brackish Suisun Marsh, at three time-periods during waterfowl breeding (April, May, July) over 4 years (2016–2019). More water was available and salinity was lower during wetter years (2017, 2019) than during drier years (2016, 2018), and the amount of water in wetlands decreased 73%–86% from April to July. Across all time-periods and years, the majority (64%–100%) of wetland habitat area had salinities above what has been shown to negatively affect ducklings (> 2 ppt), and up to 42% of wetland area had salinities associated with duckling mortality (> 9 ppt). During peak duckling production in May, 81%–95% of available water had salinity above 2 ppt, and 5%–21% was above 9 ppt. In May of the driest year (2016), only 0.5 km2 of low-salinity water (< 2 ppt) was available to ducklings in the study area, compared to 2.6 km2 in May of the wettest year (2017). Private duck clubs own the majority of wetland habitat at Grizzly Island and consistently had a greater percentage of land flooded during summer than did publicly owned wetlands, but private wetlands generally had higher salinities than public wetlands, likely because they draw from higher-salinity water sources. By July, few wetlands remained flooded, and most had salinities high enough to impair duckling growth and survival. Local waterfowl populations would benefit from management practices that provide fresher water during peak duckling production in May and retain more water through July.

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