Speakers discuss forward-looking science in a rapidly changing environment, and the neuroscience of persuading people to care about climate change.

Speakers discuss forward-looking science in a rapidly changing environment, and the neuroscience of persuading people to care about climate change.

Climate Change Planning Mark Gold made the ultimate comment in his opening plenary at the State of the Estuary Conference: “The age of incrementalism, and not moving forward in a bold way, is not getting it done in terms of climate change.” Gold, deputy secretary for ocean and coastal policy for the California Natural Resources Agency, outlined the state’s newly revised strategic plan for a bluer economy, coastal resilience, and rapid response to fisheries emergencies. Following his talk, Geeta Persad...
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Not So Picky Marsh Mouse

The endangered salt marsh harvest mouse (informally “Salty”) is a poster child for tidal marsh restoration in San Francisco Bay. But recent research, presented by University of California at Davis postdoc Katie Smith in a State of the Estuary conference session on tidal wetlands, suggests we’ve misinterpreted what the mouse needs. “It’s been managed as a habitat specialist,” she said, based on assumptions that it requires tidal wetlands and a diet of pickleweed. However, hours of mouse-tracking around the Bay...
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Speakers discuss issues facing Estuary wildlife and their wetland habitats, as well as drones and other new tools that will help future management.

Fish and Wildlife Check-up State of the Estuary Conference presentations featuring decades of data on fish, ducks, seabirds, and cetaceans revealed both hopeful and alarming trends. “The loss of federal funding for the midwinter waterfowl survey, usually conducted using small aircraft, has researchers looking at drone-based alternatives,” said waterfowl biologist Susan De La Cruz of the US Geological Survey. The overall community condition of the Estuary’s fish (abundance, distribution, diversity, proportion of native to non-native species) has declined, reported the...
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Drones Pilot Vegetation Mapping

By Michael Hunter Adamson In the world of conservation, as attested to by multiple speakers at a late summer UC Davis event, drones, or UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) may be the vehicle of choice for mapping the future of invasive plant management in the Delta. The California Department of Water Resources began using UAVs in earnest after the Oroville dam failure in the winter of 2017, when drones offered visuals no one could get near on the ground. The Blacklock...
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Invasive clams and freshwater exports from the Delta have created dramatic and unsustainable changes in the San Francisco Estuary’s foodweb over the past 50 years.

 A study by UC Davis researchers found a 97% decline in phytoplankton, the microscopic foundation of the food chain. “Understanding the causes for the decline in the pelagic [water column] community is essential so that efficient solutions can be implemented,” says Bruce Hammock, a research scientist at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine’s Aquatic Health Program. The invasive clams (Potamocorbula amurensis), originally from Asia, have been over-consuming phytoplankton and zooplankton for more than 30 years, and have long been...
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New shoreline strategies piloted in Puget Sound could help young fish in urbanized estuaries elsewhere.

When Seattle rebuilt its seawall in 2017, they hoped to make the hardened shoreline a little less daunting for the young salmon that hug it closely on their journey to the ocean. Project managers took a three-pronged approach. First, they added texture and complexity into the new concrete seawall to encourage invertebrates, food for the young fish, to settle in nooks and crannies and on horizontal “shelves” built into the wall. Mussels, ecosystem engineers, have settled on the shelves and...
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Tailing a Thrush

By Joe Eaton Researchers like Point Blue Conservation Science ecologist Tom Gardali have equipped Swainson’s thrushes, weighing just over an ounce, with tiny, one-gram GPS tags. If recovered, the tag shows the thrush’s exact winter destination, information vital to border-crossing conservation efforts. “You only get a few readings,” says Gardali, “and you still need to get the tag back. But GPS goes to a spot on the map. This is Holy Grail stuff.”  Sierra/Cascade thrushes were presumed to migrate to...
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Louise Conrad sees the Delta Stewardship Council’s science program, which she now leads, as poised to shift into a new gear – from breaking down the science landscape and building a new foundation for Delta science to actually doing it.

 “With the update of the Delta science plan done, we can now can sink our teeth into some topical issues our scientists can be passionate about, such as aquatic invasive vegetation, microcystis and climate change, for example,” says the former Department of Water Resources (DWR) fish biologist. Conrad grew up in Philadelphia and developed an interest in conservation on summer road trips to western national parks in their family’s Dodge Ram. “My mom sewed us individual seat covers with pockets...
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A marriage of robotics and artificial intelligence promises to automate the detection of harmful algal blooms, which can trigger shellfish harvesting bans and fill wildlife rescue centers with sickened animals.

The Imaging FlowCytobot (IFCB) takes water samples around the clock and photographs phytoplankton cells floating within. “It’s got a huge amount of potential for figuring out what plankton is in the water column and monitoring for HABs,” says Alexis Fischer, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Santa Cruz with Raphael Kudela. Fischer and colleagues are building a phytoplankton image classifier already capable of identifying more than 90 percent of cells photographed by IFCB at the Santa Cruz Wharf. The...
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Sleuthing Sturgeon Snags

Local green sturgeon are struggling. The population that spawns in the Sacramento –San Joaquin River Delta was declared federally threatened in 2006. Researchers at UC Davis, which hosts the world’s only green sturgeon rearing program, are now trying to figure out why the fish is in trouble. “If we knew how large they are when they’re moving through each portion of the system, we’d know a lot more about the threats they face at each life state, and where we...
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Recent discoveries are promising new weapons against red tides, the massive blooms of microscopic marine algae that are notorious for playing havoc with marine ecosystems.

The culprit behind poisoned seabirds, closed crab fisheries, stranded sea lions, and shellfish poisoning in humans are often diatoms producing the neurotoxin domoic acid. Now, scientists have identified the genes and biochemical processes responsible in diatoms of the genus Pseudo-nitzschia. The finding, published in the journal Science, opens the door to rapid genetic monitoring of algal blooms as a means to spot nascent harmful blooms and track their spread. “By identifying the genes that encode domoic acid production, we are...
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Floods and droughts can cause pools and riffles—and the bugs that live in them—to become more homogenous.

For years, scientists monitoring water quality in streams and rivers have collected mixed samples of aquatic invertebrates from riffles, pools, and transition zones. But UC Santa Barbara stream ecologist David Herbst and his colleagues recently finished a 15-year study of the benthic life in small streams of the central Sierra that examined pools and riffles separately. They found that during flood and drought events, these habitats and their inhabitants become more uniform. But while floods come and go, droughts can...
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MEGA-PEARLS, Oct 2018

A Stream of Science Takeaways. ESTUARY News sent reporters to the biennial Bay-Delta Science Conference in September. This special edition of Pearls shares more than 20 takeaways.
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SF State Launches New Floating Sentinel

Two banana-yellow buoys anchored along the Tiburon shore will be San Francisco Bay’s sentinels against shifts in water chemistry due to climate change. Known as the Bay Ocean Buoy (BOB) and the Marine Acidification Research Inquiry (MARI), the permanent moorings will provide long-term monitoring of acidity and carbon dioxide levels—key indicators of how the changing ocean will impact Bay chemistry. “It’s taken over three years of perseverance and partnership building to get these instruments into the water, but now we’ll...
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Radar Envy

“The rule for releasing water is rigid and dates to the 1950s,” says Jay Jasperse of the Sonoma County Water Agency. Near the end of 2012, the US Army Corps of Engineers released 28,000 acre-feet of water from Lake Mendocino. Then followed 14 of the driest months on record. The key to managing the drought and deluge cycle of California lies in a better understanding of atmospheric rivers, intense winter storms that transport water from the tropics to the West...
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Cold Curtain

Cold water, essential for the life cycle of Chinook salmon, is all too often in short supply along the Sacramento River. A primary cause: California’s massive water conveyance system, using reservoirs, dams, and hydroelectric plants to divert water and deliver power to farms and cities. “When we started releasing water in spring, we let cold water out too early. None was left by fall, when salmon really needed it,” says USBR hydraulic engineer Tracy Vermeyen. Two clever innovations have been...
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Coyote’s Cache of Intermittent Riches

There’s a common perception in California that more water is always better for fish. Yet many native species possess traits that allow them to persist through harsh, dry summers and cyclical drought. Over the long run, summer releases from reservoirs and urban runoff can harm local fish by laying out a welcome mat for non-native species adapted to perennial flows, Leidy says. “In areas where streams have been altered by humans, where the natural hydrograph has changed, that’s where you...
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Sturgeon Surgeons

“White sturgeon are a popular species, so we want to keep a close eye on contaminants in their tissues.” Recent RMP studies have unearthed a few new interesting things about sturgeon - first that selenium keeps turning up in specimens from certain areas, and second that testing may not have to be deadly. Growing up to 20 feet long and living up to 100 years, today’s living fish have become valuable for the stories that they tell.
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The Second Signal: Guadalupe River Flood Monitoring

It was past midnight when Lester McKee pulled the plug. He’d been watching the weather for days on screen, looking for the perfect storm of conditions he needed to send his team out to sample the Guadalupe River in Santa Clara County. He knew there’d been enough rain already to saturate the soil and surpass annual averages. Zooming in on real-time sensors aimed at Santa Clara Valley Water District reservoirs, he could see they were full enough to spill downstream....
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Man’s best friend is being enlisted in efforts to detect the soil-born pathogen responsible for sudden oak death and other rapidly spreading plant and tree diseases.

Phytophthora is difficult to detect in nurseries, plant materials, and planting sites until it has done its damage. To develop early-detection options, H.T. Harvey and Associates are training a female cattle dog/border collie mix named Bolt to sniff out Phytophthora. Part of the Harvey Dog ecological-scent detection program, Bolt has accurately identified four species of Phytophthora in the lab. If her training in a natural setting is successful, Bolt could get to work helping minimize the spread of Phytophthora. Potential beneficiaries...
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