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 15, Issue 2, 2017
Uncertainties in understanding ecosystems increase the risk that management will fail to achieve desired results. Adaptive management is a structured, iterative application of science-based knowledge to reduce uncertainties and build flexibility into decision-making. However, adaptive management is more easily planned than implemented, and it is only beginning to be applied in the California’s Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta. We draw from two assessments of adaptive management in the Delta and examples of its use elsewhere to suggest how the process can be facilitated. Although a highly structured adaptive-management process may not always be needed, several elements are essential. Adaptive management should begin by clearly identifying the problem, goals, and objectives; recognizing uncertainties; identifying decision points and alternative approaches; recognizing when adjustments are needed and having the flexibility to make them; and considering societal and political constraints. Model complexity should be matched to that of the system and management needs; experiments can help unravel causal relationships. Monitoring, analyses, and syntheses require comprehensive data-management systems. More frequent and organized communications among scientists, managers, stakeholders, and decision-makers are necessary. We propose the establishment of an “Adaptive Management Team” to coordinate efforts across the management spectrum of the Delta and to provide guidance and link individual projects to shared approaches and experiences. Reliable long-term support will be needed to assess results of management actions, adjust approaches where improvement is likely, and strive toward the legislated goals of enhancing the Delta ecosystem while also providing reliable water supplies to much of California, and doing both these things in a manner that protects values of the Delta as a place where people live and work.
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Quantifying Trade-Offs Among Ecosystem Services, Biodiversity, and Agricultural Returns in an Agriculturally Dominated Landscape Under Future Land‑Management Scenarios
Change in land use in agriculturally dominated areas is often assumed to provide positive benefits for land-owners and financial agricultural returns at the expense of biodiversity and other ecosystem services. For an agriculturally dominated area in the Central Valley of California we quantify the trade-offs among ecosystem services, biodiversity, and the financial returns from agricultural lands. We do this by evaluating three different landscape management scenarios projected to 2050 compared to the current baseline: habitat restoration, urbanization, and enhanced agriculture. The restoration scenario benefited carbon storage services and increased landscape suitability for birds, and also decreased ecosystem disservices (nitrous oxide emissions, nitrogen leaching), although there was a trade-off in slightly lower financial agricultural returns. Under the urbanization scenario, carbon storage, suitability for birds, and agricultural returns were negatively affected. A scenario which enhanced agriculture, tailored to the needs of a key species of conservation concern (Swainson’s Hawk, Buteo swainsoni), presented the most potential for trade-offs. This scenario benefitted carbon storage and increased landscape suitability for the Swainson's Hawk as well as 15 other focal bird species. However, this scenario increased ecosystem disservices. These spatially explicit results, generated at a scale relevant to land management decision-makers in the Central Valley, provide valuable insight into managing for multiple benefits in the landscape and an approach for assessing future land-management decisions.
Delta Smelt have collapsed demographically, but little is known about their current genetic status. We used 12 microsatellite loci to evaluate two measures of the effective population size (Ne) of Delta Smelt. Ne is a measure that offers predictive power regarding the loss of genetic diversity in a population over time, as well as the short and long-term genetic risks for loss of fitness resulting from low diversity. We found that the Ne of Delta Smelt is too high to accurately estimate with the data (upper 95% confidence intervals were infinity), but the lower confidence intervals of NeLD (linkage disequilibrium Ne) were above 1,000, while some of the lower confidence intervals of NeV (variance Ne) were below 1,000. We interpret this to indicate that Delta Smelt are not declining because of genetic factors, and are not at immediate risk of losing genetic diversity from low Ne. We caution that these estimates are from a short-term data set estimated from a population that has already been declining for decades, and that it is likely that Delta Smelt have lost diversity. We suggest continuing efforts to maximize abundance to prevent further loss of genetic diversity.
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Long-Term Surveys Show Invasive Overbite Clams (Potamocorbula amurensis) are Spatially Limited in Suisun Marsh, California
The overbite clam (Potamocorbula amurensis) is a major invasive species in the San Francisco Estuary, California, and has been implicated in the decline of pelagic productivity and native fish species. Little is known of its impact on Suisun Marsh, a large brackish tidal region of the estuary. We looked at the abundance and spatial distribution of clams in the marsh, including examining the influence of water quality, using long-term (1988–2015) otter trawl surveys. Temporal trends indicated that overbite clam abundance has been increasing, but adult clams were spatially restricted to a single large slough (Suisun). Clams were absent from most interior channels, limiting their overall effect on the marsh aquatic ecosystem. Abiotic variables, particularly salinity, proved important predictors of overbite clam abundance, although the variables examined alone could not explain overbite clam distributions. We propose that connectivity, detritus loads, and/or predation pressure may work in conjunction with abiotic variables to cause poor survival rates for recruits in interior marsh sites, keeping the distribution limited. Overall results are encouraging for restoration projects in brackish tidal marshes that need to deal with overbite clams.
- 1 supplemental PDF