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 5, Issue 2, 2007
Organic Carbon and Disinfection Byproduct Precursor Loads from a Constructed, Non-Tidal Wetland in California's Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta
Wetland restoration on peat islands in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta will change the quality of island drainage waters entering the Delta, a primary source of drinking water in California. Peat island drainage waters contain high concentrations of dissolved and particulate organic carbon (DOC and POC) and organic precursors to drinking water disinfection byproducts, such as trihalomethanes (THMs). We quantified the net loads of DOC, POC, and THM-precursors from a constructed subsidence mitigation wetland on Twitchell Island in the Delta to determine the change in drainage water quality that may be caused by conversion of agricultural land on peat islands to permanently flooded, non-tidal wetlands. Creation of permanently flooded wetlands halts oxidative loss of the peat soils and thereby may mitigate the extensive land-surface subsidence of the islands that threatens levee stability in the Delta. Net loads from the wetland were dominated by DOC flushed from the oxidized shallow peat soil layer by seepage flow out of the wetland. The permanently flooded conditions in the overlying wetland resulted in a gradual evolution to anaerobic conditions in the shallow soil layer and a concomitant decrease in the flow could be minimized by reducing the hydraulic gradient between the wetland and the adjacent drainage ditch. Estimates of net loads from the wetland assuming efflux of surface water only were comparable in magnitude to net loads from nearby agricultural fields, but the wetland and agricultural net loads had opposite seasonal variations. Wetland surface water net loads of DOC, POC, and THM-precursors were lower during the winter months when the greatest amounts of water are available for diversion from the Delta to drinking water reservoirs.
Processes Affecting Agricultural Drainwater Quality and Organic Carbon Loads in California's Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta
From 2000 to 2003 we quantified drain flow, drain-and ground-water chemistry and hydrogeologic conditions on Twitchell Island in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The primary objective was to quantify processes affecting organic carbon concentrations and loads in agricultural drainage water. We collected physical and chemical data in southern and northern areas: TN and TS, respectively. Corn grew in both areas during the spring and summer. The peat soils in the TN area are more decomposed than those in the TS area. Results elucidate processes affecting drain flow and concentrations under varying hydrologic conditions. During May through November, groundwater flows from the permanently saturated zone to drainage ditches, and the resulting average drainage-water quality and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentration was similar to the groundwater; the median DOC loads in the TN and TS study areas ranged from 9 to 27 g C/ha-day. The major ion chemistry and stable isotope data confirmed that groundwater was the primary source of drainflow. In contrast, during December through April the drainwater is supplied from the shallow, variably saturated soil-zone. The DOC concentrations, major-ion chemistry, and stable isotope data indicate that the shallow-zone water is partially evaporated and oxidized. Higher flows and DOC concentrations during these months result in higher median DOC loads, which ranged from 84 to 280 g C/ha-day.
During December through April, increasing groundwater levels in the shallow peat layers and mobilization of organic carbon result in high drain flow and increased trihalomethane precursor concentrations and loads. On a per mass DOC basis, drain water collected during high flow periods is less likely to form THMs than during low flow periods. However, the high flows and subsequent high concentrations contribute to substantially higher trihalomethane precursor and DOC loads.
This study tested whether analyzers using different methods were equally capable of measuring organic carbon in diverse environmental water samples from California’s Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta and its watersheds. The study also evaluated whether the different instruments might provide differing organic carbon concentration measurements, which could in turn trigger (or not) a regulatory requirement for enhanced coagulation at a water treatment plant. In Phase 1, samples were collected in eight monthly events at five stations associated with California’s State Water Project and analyzed using three high temperature combustion and three chemical oxidation instruments. Significant differences between instruments occurred in only 20% of the analyses. However, 80% of the observed differences were attributed to one combustion instrument that reported higher values compared to the other instruments. In Phase 2, four certified standards were analyzed with nine instruments. Results suggested that the main contributor of the observed differences was some instruments’ inability to remove inorganic carbon, an important step in the analytical process. There were no significant differences in the frequencies at which different instruments would have prescribed enhanced coagulation at a water treatment plant. We concluded that properly operating instruments using any of the standard methods were equally capable of analyzing the diverse concentration levels of organic carbon in the Delta.
Predation is one mechanism that could lead to low native fish abundance in macrophyte dominated shallow-water habitats in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. We used beach seine and gill net sampling to identify and compare the distribution and feeding ecology of three piscivores (striped bass, Morone saxatilis, largemouth bass, Micropterus salmoides, and Sacramento pikeminnow, Ptychocheilus grandis) at five nearshore sites in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Sampling was conducted March-October 2001 and 2003. We addressed the following questions. What are the spatial and temporal distributions of age-1 and older striped bass, largemouth bass, and Sacramento pikeminnow? What prey are eaten by these predators? What is the relative importance of predator size versus seasonal prey availability on incidence of piscivory for these predators? What is the likely per capita impact of each piscivore on prey fishes, particularly native fishes? All 76 of our individual station visits yielded at least one of the three species, suggesting that piscivorous fishes frequently occur in Delta shallow-water habitats. All three piscivores had diverse diets.There were noticeable seasonal shifts in prey fish for each of the three piscivores. In general, most native fish were consumed during spring (March-May) and the highest prey species richness occurred during summer (June-August). Largemouth bass likely have the highest per capita impact on nearshore fishes, including native fishes. Largemouth bass preyed on a greater diversity of native fishes than the other two piscivores and consumed native fishes farther into the season (July versus May). Based on binomial generalized additive models, incidence of piscivory was predominantly a function of size for largemouth bass and Sacramento pikeminnow. Largemouth bass became predominantly piscivorous at smaller sizes than Sacramento pikeminnow; about 115 mm versus about 190 mm respectively. In contrast, incidence of piscivory was predominantly a function of season for striped bass. Striped bass were typically most piscivorous during summer and fall regardless of size. We conclude that shallow-water piscivores are widespread in the Delta and generally respond in a density-dependent manner to seasonal changes in prey availability.