San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science
Variation of Fish Habitat and Extent of the Low-Salinity Zone with Freshwater Flow in the San Francisco Estuary
- Author(s): Kimmerer, Wim J.
- MacWilliams, Michael L.
- Gross, Edward S.
- et al.
We used the UnTRIM San Francisco Bay–Delta hydrodynamic model to examine the spatial distribution of salinity as a function of freshwater flow in the San Francisco Estuary. Our particular focus was the covariation of flow with the spatial extent of the low-salinity zone (LSZ: salinity = 0.5 to 6), and with the extent of habitat for common species of -nekton as defined by their salinity ranges. The UnTRIM model has an unstructured grid which allowed us to refine earlier estimates of the availability of suitable salinity ranges, particularly for species resident in low salinity. The response of the salinity field to flow was influenced by the bathymetry of the estuary. Area and volume of the LSZ were bimodal with X2, the distance up the axis of the estuary to a near-bottom salinity of 2, roughly the middle of the LSZ. The smallest area and volume occurred when the LSZ was in the Delta or Carquinez Strait, moderate values when it was in Suisun Bay, and the highest values when it was in broad, shallow San Pablo Bay. Resource selection functions for the distributions of common nekton species in salinity space were up-dated from previous values and used to calculate salinity-based habitat indices using the UnTRIM results. These indices generally increased with decreasing X2 (increasing flow), but the slopes of these relationships were mostly inconsistent with corresponding relationships of abundance to flow. Thus, although the salinity range used by most nekton expands as flow increases, other mechanisms relating population size to flow are likely more important than the physical extent of suitable salinity.