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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Years of Drought and Salt: Decreasing Flows Determine the Distribution of Zooplankton Resources in the San Francisco Estuary


The San Francisco Estuary (estuary) and the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta (the Delta) in California face significant challenges in managing water resources during extended droughts. Zooplankton are a vital trophic link between phytoplankton producers and higher-level consumers such as predatory zooplankton and fish. However, there is still much to be learned about what drives zooplankton abundance and how they respond to drastic changes in environmental conditions, such as droughts. We found that during drought years zooplankton abundance and distribution changes varied for examined taxa. Significant declines in the abundance of Daphnia spp. and the copepod Pseudodiaptomus forbesi occurred in the Suisun Marsh and Suisun Bay regions. In contrast, abundance of the non-native copepod Limnoithona tetraspina increased in Suisun Marsh and the South-Central Delta during those same drought conditions. Salinity is a strong determinant of the presence and abundance of the studied taxa, and we showed that changes in the distribution of salinity as a result of low outflow conditions were an important factor in the regional abundance of zooplankton. Because of the expected increase in the frequency and severity of regional droughts, understanding how these conditions affect zooplankton in the estuary will benefit scientists and resource managers who aim to improve conditions for native fishes.

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