SFEWS: Volume 19, Issue 3
In our September issue new research and commentary provide insights on several topics: how to integrate zooplankton science to inform estuary management; how simulated fishing can avoid missed fish and detect gear bias in the water; why juvenile Chinook Salmon length-at-date criteria don't match genetic run assignments; whether declines in breeding waterfowl population relate to wetland habitat and salinity; and what kinds of food web support can be achieved by use of a managed flow pulse.
Photo: Forster’s Terns at Crown Beach, public domain. Attribution: © Ingrid Taylar, Creative Commons 2.0 Generic license.
Catch as Catch Can
"Catchability" refers to the relationship between catch rate and the true population. Ecological monitoring programs use catch per unit of effort (CPUE) to standardize catch and monitor changes in fish populations; however, CPUE is proportional to the portion of the population that is vulnerable to the type of gear used in sampling, which is not necessarily the entire population. Tobais' simulation combines a module for sampling conditions with a module for individual fish behavior to estimate the proportion of available fish that would escape from the sample. The method is applied to the case study of the well monitored fish species Delta Smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus) in the San Francisco Estuary, where it has been hypothesized that changing water clarity may affect catchability for long-term monitoring studies.
Waterfowl Reproductive Success Depends on High Water, Low Salt
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 mS/cm) can impair duckling growth and influence behavior, with mortality occurring above 9 ppt (14.8 mS/cm). Schacter et al. 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). Among their findings was during peak duckling production in May, 81%–95% of available water had salinity above 2 ppt, and 5%–21% was above 9 ppt. Local waterfowl populations would benefit from management practices that provide fresher water during peak duckling production in May and retain more water through July.
Deep Dives Among Waterbird Populations in South SF Bay
In south San Francisco Bay, former salt ponds now managed as wildlife habitat support large populations of breeding waterbirds. In 2006, the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project began the process of converting 50% to 90% of these managed pond habitats into tidal marsh. Hartman et al. compared waterbird populations in south San Francisco Bay before (2001) and after (2019) approximately 1,300 ha of managed ponds were breached to tidal action to begin tidal marsh restoration. Study results showed average annual nest abundance declined during 2017–2019 by 53%, 71%, and 36%, for American Avocets, Back-necked Stilts, and Forster’s Terns, respectively. All three species established nesting colonies on newly constructed islands within remaining managed ponds; however, these new colonies did not make up for the steep declines observed at other historical nesting sites. For future wetland restoration, retaining more managed ponds that contain islands suitable for nesting may help to limit further declines in breeding waterbird populations.
Managed Pulse Flows as Food Web Support
While freshwater inflow has been a major focus of resource management in estuaries, including the upper San Francisco Estuary, there is a growing interest in using focused flow actions to maximize benefits for specific regions, habitats, and species. To test this concept, in summer 2016, Frantzich et al. used a managed flow pulse to target an ecologically important region: a freshwater tidal slough called the Cache Slough Complex. Their goal was to improve estuarine habitat by increasing net flows through CSC to enhance downstream transport of lower trophic-level resources, an important driver for fishes such as the endangered Delta Smelt. Simulations using a 3-D hydrodynamic model (UnTRIM) indicated that the managed flow pulse had a large effect on the net flow of water through Yolo Bypass, and between the CSC and further downstream. The managed flow pulse resulted in increased densities of zooplankton (copepods, cladocerans) demonstrating potential advection from upper floodplain channels into the target CSC and Sacramento River regions. Though conducted during a single year, this study may provide an instructive example of how a relatively modest change in net flows can generate measurable changes in ecologically relevant metrics, and how an adaptive management action can help inform resource management.
Length-at-Date Criteria and Genetic Run Assignments
Four distinct runs of Central Valley Chinook Salmon are named after their primary adult return times: fall, late-fall, winter, and spring run. Estimating the run-specific composition of juveniles entering and leaving the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta is crucial for assessing population status and processes that affect juvenile survival through the Delta. Historically, the run of juvenile Chinook Salmon captured in the field has been determined using a length-at-date criteria (LDC); however, LDC run assignments may be inaccurate if there is high overlap in the run-specific timing and size of juveniles entering and leaving the Delta. In this study, Brandes et al. use genetic run assignments to assess the accuracy of LDC at two trawl locations in the Sacramento River (Delta entry) and at Chipps Island (Delta exit).Across years, there was extensive overlap among the distributions of run-specific fork lengths of genetically identified juveniles, indicating that run compositions based on LDC assignments would tend to underestimate fall-run and especially late-fall-run compositions at both trawl locations, and greatly overestimate spring-run compositions (both locations) and winter-run compositions (Chipps Island). We therefore strongly support ongoing efforts to include tissue sampling and genetic run identification of juvenile Chinook Salmon at key monitoring locations in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River system.
Pelagic fish in the San Francisco Estuary are harder to catch in recent decades. Over the past thirty years, Delta Smelt catch in the Fall Midwater Trawl Survey has declined by 99%, Longfin Smelt catch has declined by over 95%, and even the notoriously hardy Striped Bass have declined by over 75%. To manage the system and reverse these declines, we need a better understanding of the “bottom-up” processes that exert control on these populations—we need to study fish food. In other words, in addition to studying fish directly, we need to increase our understanding of what pelagic fish eat: zooplankton. In this essay, Hartman et al. break down not only what fish eat (zooplankton) and why they are important drivers of species abundance in higher trophic areas of the food web, but also how scientists and natural resources managers can communicate better to understand which zooplankton data can inform and develop management-relevant questions.
Volume 10, Issue 3, 2012
Special Issue: Conceptual Models to Support Restoration Planning: the DRERIP Approach
Using Conceptual Models in Ecosystem Restoration Decision Making: An Example from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, California
The Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta (the Delta) is located on the western edge of California’s Central Valley and is of critical ecological and economic importance. However, ecosystem alterations for human uses changed many of the Delta’s natural processes, and it is now considered in need of restoration. An approach was developed to evaluate and rank restoration actions in the Delta under the Ecosystem Restoration Program’s Delta Regional Ecosystem Restoration Implementation Plan (DRERIP). The DRERIP approach provides an explicit framework for evaluating restoration actions, using linked conceptual models, an action evaluation procedure, and a decision-support tool. Conceptual models allow scientists and managers to synthesize scientific information and make qualitative predictions about ecosystem function and restoration outcomes to guide and focus restoration efforts. The action evaluation procedure is a structured assessment of restoration actions. The procedure clearly describes actions to be evaluated, assesses the magnitude (importance and scale) and certainty of anticipated ecological outcomes, estimates degrees of worth (achieving intended outcomes) and risk (causing adverse consequences), evaluates the reversibility of the action, and identifies opportunities for learning. The values for worthiness, risk, reversibility, and learning opportunity are used in the decision- support tool to determine the fate of a proposed action. The decision-support tool is a structured decision tree that determines the disposition of an action: whether a restoration project should be discarded, revised with a different approach and re-evaluated, or implemented; and, if implemented, at what scale (targeted research, pilot project, or full implementation). The DRERIP approach provides managers with a valuable tool for restoration planning, and a foundation for integration with quantitative methods for a comprehensive ecosystem restoration plan.
Central Valley Chinook must pass through the San Francisco Estuary as juveniles and again as maturing adults. Much attention has been given to the effects on Chinook of management of the freshwater part of the estuary, and the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta, and especially to the effects on Chinook of diversions of water from the Delta. Here, I review available information on juvenile Chinook in and around the estuary that seems most relevant to management of the estuary and of Chinook. Most naturally produced juvenile fall Chinook enter the estuary as small fish (<50 mm) that typically use tidal habitats, and anthropogenic changes in the Delta and around the bays have sharply reduced that habitat. Nevertheless, there is evidence that many surviving naturally produced fall Chinook leave fresh water at <55 mm length. Juvenile Chinook from other runs are older and larger when they enter the estuary, and probably pass through it more rapidly. Presumably, these have been less directly affected by loss of tidal habitat, but are also affected by degradation of the estuarine ecosystem. The effects of Delta diversions on Chinook vary strongly by run and river of origin; surprisingly few Sacramento River fall Chinook have been recovered at the diversions. Central Valley Chinook, especially fall Chinook, are strongly affected by hatchery culture that reduces juvenile life-history diversity, probably results in density-dependent mortality in the estuary, and presumably reduces fitness for natural reproduction. Hatchery culture diverts juvenile fall Chinook away from, and precludes for selection for, the life history trajectories followed by most naturally produced fish, to which more attention should be given.
Sedimentation in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta builds the Delta landscape, creates benthic and pelagic habitat, and transports sediment-associated contaminants. Here we present a conceptual model of sedimentation that includes submodels for river supply from the watershed to the Delta, regional transport within the Delta and seaward exchange, and local sedimentation in open water and marsh habitats. The model demonstrates feedback loops that affect the Delta ecosystem. Submerged and emergent marsh vegetation act as ecosystem engineers that can create a positive feedback loop by decreasing suspended sediment, increasing water column light, which in turn enables more vegetation. Sea-level rise in open water is partially countered by a negative feedback loop that increases deposition if there is a net decrease in hydrodynamic energy. Manipulation of regional sediment transport is probably the most feasible method to control suspended sediment and thus turbidity. The conceptual model is used to identify information gaps that need to be filled to develop an accurate sediment transport model.
Floodplains are among the most biologically productive and diverse ecosystems on Earth and they provide significant benefits to society such as attenuation of floodwaters, groundwater recharge, filtration of nutrients and sediments, carbon sequestration, fisheries productivity and recreation. However, floodplains are also among the most converted and threatened ecosystems. Floodplain habitats in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and throughout California’s Central Valley, have been greatly reduced from their historic extent and key processes that create and maintain floodplains, such as flood flows and meander migration, have been greatly altered. These widespread alterations to habitats and processes have lead to declines in many species’ populations in California’s Central Valley and Delta, creating challenges for both environmental and water management. To address these challenges numerous entities and programs are now focused on restoring floodplains and other Delta habitats. This paper provides a conceptual model for floodplains that characterizes the key features and identifies the critical processes, drivers, and linkages that allow floodplains to produce a variety of functional outputs of management importance. These outputs include: (1) the floodplain habitat mosaic, including riparian vegetation and its associated wildlife; (2) spawning and rearing habitat for native fish; and (3) food-web productivity that can support native fish on the floodplain as well as be exported to downstream ecosystems. The model emphasizes that the production of these outputs from floodplains requires vertical and lateral hydrological connectivity across a broad range of flow conditions. For example, long-duration flooding in the spring promotes native fish spawning and food-web productivity that benefits native species.