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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Volume 12, Issue 3, 2014

Issue cover
Cover Caption: "Bay view from China Camp Park" by Kevin Collins. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

Research Article

Diet, Prey Selection, and Body Condition of Age-0 Delta Smelt, Hypomesus transpacificus, in the Upper San Francisco Estuary

The Delta Smelt, an endangered fish, has suffered a long-term decline in abundance, believed to result from, in part, to changes in the pelagic food web of the upper San Francisco Estuary. To investigate the current role of food as a factor in Delta Smelt well-being, we developed reference criteria for gut fullness and body condition based on allometric growth. We then examined monthly diet, prey selectivity, and gut fullness of larvae and juvenile Delta Smelt collected April through September in 2005 and 2006 for evidence of feeding difficulties leading to reduced body condition. Calanoid copepods Eurytemora affinis and Pseudodiaptomus forbesi remained major food items during spring and from early summer through fall, respectively. Other much larger copepods and macroinvertebrates contributed in lesser numbers to the diet of older juvenile fish from mid-summer through fall. In fall, juvenile Delta Smelt periodically relied heavily on very small prey and prey potentially associated with demersal habitat, suggesting typical pelagic food items were in short supply. We found a strong positive selection for E. affinis and P. forbesi, neutral to negative selection for evasive calanoid Sinocalanus doerrii, and neutral to negative selection for the small cyclopoid copepod Limnoithona tetraspina and copepod nauplii, which were consumed only when extremely numerous in the environment. Feeding incidence was significantly higher in 2006, but among successfully feeding fish we found no between year difference in gut fullness. However, we did detect differences in fullness across months in both years. We found no difference in body condition of Delta Smelt between years yet our sample sizes were low in September when Delta Smelt reverted to feeding on very small organisms and fullness declined, so the longer-term effect remains unknown. Our findings suggest that: Delta Smelt had difficulty obtaining prey in spring 2005 or obtaining proper-sized prey in fall of both years. We detected these difficulties in some regional feeding incidence and fullness indices, but not in body condition indices.

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Alameda Song Sparrow Abundance Related to Salt Marsh Vegetation Patch Size and Shape Metrics Quantified from Remote Sensing Imagery

Understanding the characteristics of high-quality avian habitat is critical for guiding salt marsh management and restoration. Existing insights into salt marsh avian habitat are often based on the composition of marsh vegetation, e.g., individual plant species cover. This study investigated whether the spatial configuration of marsh surface cover (e.g., patch number, density, size, shape complexity and compactness, degree of dissection of the landscape, variation and repetition of cover type, and the variance within these metrics) is a useful, additional indicator of avian habitat quality for the Alameda Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia pusillula), a non-migratory California Species of Special Concern endemic to southern San Francisco Bay. M. m. pusillula density during the breeding seasons of 2002 through 2005 was estimated at 82 observation points in 10 marsh sites within the bird’s geographic range. The mean bird density index (overall mean: 5.61 birds detected per hectare of marsh) was not significantly different among marshes of different ages. We mapped the vegetation zones, open water, and upland areas within each marsh site using high resolution aerial photographs and automated classification analysis. We quantified the configuration of surface cover around each bird observation point by 31 metrics. Bird density index was best modeled by a multiple linear regression containing positive relationships with the metrics Mean Core Area Index and Patch Core Area Coefficient of Variation (R 2= 0.210, p < 0.0001). Qualitatively, this model suggested that M. m. pusillula abundance during the breeding season was greatest in marsh areas with compact patches that spanned a variety of patch sizes from moderate-to-large, uninterrupted by other cover. We conclude that configuration-based vegetation pattern analysis could usefully complement more customary composition-based habitat assessments to aid wetland habitat research, management, and restoration.


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Climate Change Vulnerability of Freshwater Fishes of the San Francisco Bay Area

Climate change is expected to progressively shift the freshwater environments of the San Francisco Bay Area (SFBA) to states that favor alien fishes over native species. Native species likely will have more limited distributions and some may be extirpated. Stream-dependent species may decline as portions of streams dry or become warmer due to lower flows and increased air temperatures. However, factors other than climate change may pose a more immediate threat to native fishes. Comparison of regional vs. statewide vulnerability (baseline and climate change) scores suggests that a higher proportion (56% vs. 50%) of SFBA native species, as compared to the state’s entire fish fauna, are vulnerable to existing anthropogenic threats that result in habitat degradation. In comparison, a smaller proportion of SFBA native species are vulnerable to predicted climate change effects (67% vs. 82%). In the SFBA, adverse effects from climate change likely come second to estuarine alteration, agriculture, and dams. However, the relative effect of climate change on species likely will grow in an increasingly warmer and drier California. Maintaining representative assemblages of native fishes may require providing flow regimes downstream from dams that reflect more natural hydrographs, extensive riparian, stream, and estuarine habitat restoration, and other management actions, such as modification of hatchery operations.