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 12, Issue 3, 2014
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.
- 2 supplemental PDFs
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.
- 2 supplemental PDFs
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.