, Volume 28, Issue 5, pp 776-785

Fish community ecology in an Altered River delta: Spatial patterns in species composition, life history strategies, and biomass

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Abstract

We sampled nearshore fishes in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, California, United States, during 2001 and 2003 with beach seines and gill nets. We addressed three questions. How and why did fish assemblages vary, and what local habitat features best explained the variation? Did spatial variation in assemblages reflect greater success of particular life history strategies? Did fish biomass vary among years or, across habitats? Nonmetric multidimensional scaling showed that habitat variables had more influence on fish assemblages than temporal variables. Results from both gear types indicated fish assemblages varied between Sacramento and San Joaquin River sampling sites. Results from gill net sampling were less pronounced than those from beach seine sampling. The Sacramento and San Joaquin river sites differed most notably in terms of water clarity and abundance of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV), suggesting a link between these habitat characteristics and fish relative abundance. Among-site differences in the relative abundance of periodic and equilibrium strategist species suggested a gradient in the importance of abiotic versus biotic community structuring mechanisms. Fish biomass varied among years, but was generally higher in SAV-dominated habitats than the turbid, open habitats in which we found highest abundances of striped bassMorone saxatilis and special-status native fishes such as delta smeltHypomesus transpacificus, Chinook salmonOncorhyncus tschawytscha, and splittailPogonichthys macrolepidotus. The low abundance of special-status fishes in the comparatively productive SAV-dominated habitats suggests these species would benefit more from large-scale restoration actions that result in abiotic variability that mirrors natural river-estuary habitat than from actions that emphasize local (site-specific) productivity.