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Open Access Publications from the University of California


SFEWS provides credible scientific information on California's complex water issues, linking new science to policy with great effect. SFEWS retains a regional focus on the San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta, also known as the Bay–Delta watershed. At the heart of open access from the California Digital Library, SFEWS's scholarly output ranks #1 for the UC Davis Institute  of the Environment and ranks #3 campus wide.

Volume 18, Issue 1, 2020

Issue cover
Cover Caption: Scenic view along the American River just north of Sacramento, California. Credit: CA Dept. of Water Resources.


Did a Shifting Ecological Baseline Mask the Predatory Effect of Striped Bass on Delta Smelt?

Striped Bass, Morone saxatilis, has been an established member of the San Francisco Estuary’s (estuary’s) aquatic community for nearly a century and a half. As a predator, it has the potential to shape community composition through top-down control of lower trophic species, including the endangered Delta Smelt, Hypomesus transpacificus. Invasive predators can be particularly disruptive to native communities because they present novel dangers to naïve populations, but, as a long-established member of the aquatic community, Striped Bass has not previously been considered to limit the Delta Smelt population. Here, we develop an argument that Striped Bass are important to controlling Delta Smelt. We support this argument by reviewing historical data which suggests that declines in Delta Smelt before the current-day monitoring program were driven by the invasion of Striped Bass into the estuary. We describe this phenomenon as the ‘phantom predator’ hypothesis in the context of an analog to the shifting baseline syndrome previously described for marine fisheries. A deeper understanding of how well studied (and rapidly changing) bottom-up drivers of the estuary food web interact with poorly understood (but also rapidly changing) controls at the top of the food web could prove very important to the conservation of other declining native fishes and possible future attempts to re-introduce captive-reared Delta Smelt to the estuary.

Research Article

Climate and Land-Use Controls on Surface Water Diversions in the Central Valley, California

California’s Central Valley (CV) is one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world, enabled by the conjunctive use of surface water and groundwater. We investigated variations in the CV’s managed surface water diversions relative to climate variability. Using a historical record (1979−2010) of diversions from 531 sites, we found diversions are largest in the wetter Sacramento basin to the north, but most variable in the drier Tulare basin to the south. A rotated empirical orthogonal function (REOF) analysis finds 72% of the variance of diversions is captured by the first three REOFs. The leading REOF (35% of variance) exhibited strong positive loadings in the Tulare basin, and the corresponding principal component time-series (RPC1) was strongly correlated (ρ > 0.9) with contemporaneous hydrologic variability. This pattern indicates larger than average diversions in the south, with neutral or slightly less than average diversions to the north during wet years, with the opposite true for dry years. The second and third REOFs (20% and 17% of variance, respectively), were strongest in the Sacramento basin and San Francisco Bay−Delta. RPC2 and RPC3 were associated with variations in agricultural- and municipal-bound diversions, respectively. RPC2 and RPC3 were also moderately correlated with 7-year cumulative precipitation based on lagged correlation analysis, indicating that diversions in the north and central portions of the CV respond to longer-term hydrologic variations. The results illustrate a dichotomy of regimes wherein diversions in the more arid Tulare are governed by year-to-year hydrologic variability, while those in wetter northern basins reflect land-use patterns and low-frequency hydrologic variations.

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Combining Models of the Critical Streakline and the Cross-Sectional Distribution of Juvenile Salmon to Predict Fish Routing at River Junctions

Because fish that enter the interior Delta have poorer survival than those emigrating via the Sacramento River, understanding the mechanisms that drive entrainment rates at side channel junctions is critically important for the management of imperiled juvenile salmon. Here, we implement a previously proposed process-based conceptual model to study entrainment rates based on three linked elements: the entrainment zone, critical streakline, and cross-sectional distribution of fish. The critical streakline is the location along a channel cross-section immediately upstream of a junction that forms the spatial divide between parcels of water that enter a side channel or remain in the main channel. The critical streakline therefore divides the main channel into entrainment zones within which fish would likely enter each channel. Combined with information about the cross-sectional distribution of fish upstream of a junction, this conceptual model provides a means to predict fish entrainment into each channel. To apply this conceptual model, we combined statistical models of the critical streakline, the cross-sectional distribution of acoustic tagged juvenile Chinook salmon, and their probability of entrainment into Georgiana Slough. We fit joint beta regression and logistic regression models to acoustic telemetry data gathered in 2011 and 2012 to estimate the cross-sectional distribution of fish upstream of the junction, and to estimate the probability of entrainment for fish on either side of the critical streakline. We show that entrainment rates can be predicted by understanding how the combination of critical streakline position and cross-sectional distribution of fish co-vary as a function of environmental covariates. By integrating over individual positions and entrainment fates to arrive at population-level entrain probability in relation to environmental covariates, our model offers managers a simple but powerful tool to evaluate how alternative actions affect migrating fish.

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Sacramento River Predator Diet Analysis: A Comparative Study

This study examined diets of two predatory fish species, the native Sacramento Pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus grandis) and the introduced Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis), in the Sacramento River, California, USA. Both species have been implicated in native species declines through predation, eliciting our investigation of their diets in the Sacramento River. Sampling occurred between March and November 2017, and was conducted via hook and line on a 35-km reach near Chico, California. Habitat types sampled include engineered structures (water diversions and beam bridges), rip-rapped channel edges, and natural riverbank. Stomach contents were collected via gastric lavage and later processed using visual, gravimetric, and genetic techniques. Diets of Sacramento Pikeminnow and Striped Bass were highly similar as determined through index of relative importance and PERMANOVA modeling. Water temperature was the only variable that significantly affected diet composition. Results reflect similar dietary niches for both species in the Sacramento River.

  • 1 supplemental PDF