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 8, Issue 1, 2010
An increase in the rate of sea level rise is one of the primary impacts of projected global climate change. To assess potential inundation associated with a continued acceleration of sea level rise, the highest resolution elevation data available were assembled from various sources and mosaicked to cover the land surfaces of the San Francisco Bay region. Next, to quantify extreme water levels throughout the bay, a hydrodynamic model of the San Francisco Estuary was driven by a projection of hourly water levels at the Presidio. This projection was based on a combination of climate model outputs, an empirical model, and observations, and incorporates astronomical, storm surge, El Niño, and long-term sea level rise influences.
Based on the resulting data, maps of areas vulnerable to inundation were produced, corresponding to specific amounts of sea level rise and recurrence intervals, including tidal datums. These maps portray areas where inundation will likely be an increasing concern. In the North Bay, wetlands and some developed fill areas are at risk. In Central and South bays, a key feature is the landward periphery of developed areas that would be newly vulnerable to inundation. Nearly all municipalities adjacent to South Bay face this risk to some degree. For the bay as a whole, as early as mid-century under this scenario, the one-year peak event nearly equals the 100-year peak event in 2000. Maps of vulnerable areas are presented and some implications discussed. Results are available for interactive viewing and download at http://cascade.wr.usgs.gov/data/Task2b-SFBay.
We used multivariate methods to explore changes in benthic assemblage structure over 27 years (1977–2003) at four monitoring stations located along a salinity gradient in the upper San Francisco Estuary. Changes in benthic assemblage composition were assessed relative to hydrologic variability and to the presence of the high-impact invader Corbula amurensis in the estuary. We also explored the composition of benthic assemblages during a recent collapse of several pelagic populations in the upper estuary. Our results show that the Corbula invasion had both direct and indirect effects on the benthos in the estuary, causing significant changes in assemblage structure. We found no unprecedented patterns of benthic assemblage composition during the period of the Pelagic Organism Decline (2000–2003) in the upper estuary. Hydrologic variability was associated with significant changes in benthic assemblage composition at all locations. Benthic assemblage composition was more sensitive to mean annual salinity than other local physical conditions. That is, benthic assemblages were not geographically static, but shifted with salinity, moving down-estuary in years with high delta outflow, and up-estuary during years with low delta outflow, without strong fidelity to physical habitat attributes such as substrate composition or location in embayment vs. channel habitat. Organism abundance and species richness showed a bi-modal distribution along the salinity gradient, with lowest abundance and richness in the 5 to 8 psu range. We conclude that the continuity of benthic assemblages and community metrics along the salinity gradient is a powerful and necessary context for understanding historical variability in assemblage composition at geographically static monitoring stations.
- 4 supplemental PDFs
The hydraulic gold-mining process used during the California Gold Rush and in many developing countries today contributes enormous amounts of sediment to rivers and streams. Commonly, accompanying this sediment are contaminants such as elemental mercury and cyanide used in the gold extraction process. We show that some of the mercury-contaminated sediment created by hydraulic gold mining in the Sierra Nevada, between 1852 and 1884, ended up over 250 kilometers (km) away in San Francisco Bay; an example of the far-reaching extent of contamination from such activities. A combination of radionuclide dating, bathymetric reconstruction, and geochemical tracers were used to distinguish the hydraulic mining sediment from sediment deposited in the bay before hydraulic mining started (pre-Gold Rush sediment) and sediment deposited after hydraulic mining stopped (modern sediment). Three San Francisco Bay cores were studied as well as source material from the abandoned hydraulic gold mines and river sediment between the mines and bay. Isotopic and geochemical compositions of the core sediments show a geochemical shift in sediment deposited during the time of hydraulic mining. The geochemical shift is characterized by a decrease in εNd, total organic carbon (TOC), Sr and Ca concentrations, Ca/Sr, and Ni/Zr; and, an increase in 87Sr/86Sr, Al/Ca, Hg concentrations, and quartz/plagioclase. This shift is in the direction of the geochemical signature of sediments from rivers and gold mines in hydraulic mining areas. Mixing calculations using Nd isotopes and concentrations estimate that the hydraulic mining debris comprises up to 56% of the sediment in core sediments deposited during the time of hydraulic mining. The surface sediment of cores taken in 1990 were found to contain up to 43% hydraulic mining debris, reflecting a continuing remobilization and redistribution of the debris within the bay and transport from the watershed. Mercury concentrations in pre-Gold Rush sediment range between 0.03 and 0.08 μg g-1. In core sediments that have characteristics of the gold deposits and were deposited during the time of hydraulic mining, mercury concentrations can be up to 0.45 μg/g. Modern sediment (post-1952 deposition) contains mercury concentrations up to 0.79 μg/g and is likely a mix of hydraulic mining mercury and mercury introduced from other sources.