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Journal Article (Peer-Reviewed)
Primary Production in the Delta: Then and Now. San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science 14 (3).2016.
To evaluate the role of restoration in the recovery of the Delta ecosystem, we need to have clear targets and performance measures that directly assess ecosystem function. Primary production is a crucial ecosystem process, which directly limits the quality and quantity of food available for secondary consumers such as invertebrates and fish. The Delta has a low rate of primary production, but it is unclear whether this was always the case. Recent analyses from the Historical Ecology Team and Delta Landscapes Project provide quantitative comparisons of the areal extent of 14 habitat types in the modern Delta versus the historical Delta (pre-1850). Here we describe an approach for using these metrics of land use change to: (1) produce the first quantitative estimates of how Delta primary production and the relative contributions from five different producer groups have been altered by large-scale drainage and conversion to agriculture; (2) convert these production estimates into a common currency so the contributions of each producer group reflect their food quality and efficiency of transfer to consumers; and (3) use simple models to discover how tidal exchange between marshes and open water influences primary production and its consumption. Application of this approach could inform Delta management in two ways. First, it would provide a quantitative estimate of how large-scale conversion to agriculture has altered the Delta's capacity to produce food for native biota. Second, it would provide restoration practitioners with a new approach—based on ecosystem function—to evaluate the success of restoration projects and gauge the trajectory of ecological recovery in the Delta region.
On the human appropriation of wetland primary production. Science of the Total Environment 785.2021.
Humans are changing the Earth's surface at an accelerating pace, with significant consequences for ecosystems and their biodiversity. Landscape transformation has far-reaching implications including reduced net primary production (NPP) available to support ecosystems, reduced energy supplies to consumers, and disruption of ecosystem services such as carbon storage. Anthropogenic activities have reduced global NPP available to terrestrial ecosystems by nearly 25%, but the loss of NPP from wetland ecosystems is unknown. We used a simple approach to estimate aquatic NPP from measured habitat areas and habitat-specific areal productivity in the largest wetland complex on the USA west coast, comparing historical and modern landscapes and a scenario of wetland restoration. Results show that a 77% loss of wetland habitats (primarily marshes) has reduced ecosystem NPP by 94%, C (energy) flow to herbivores by 89%, and detritus production by 94%. Our results also show that attainment of habitat restoration goals could recover 12% of lost NPP and measurably increase carbon flow to consumers, including at-risk species and their food resources. This case study illustrates how a simple approach for quantifying the loss of NPP from measured habitat losses can guide wetland conservation plans by establishing historical baselines, projecting functional outcomes of different restoration scenarios, and establishing performance metrics to gauge success.
An assessment of future tidal marsh resilience in the San Francisco Estuary through modeling and quantifiable metrics of sustainability. Frontiers in Environmental Science 10.2022.
Quantitative, broadly applicable metrics of resilience are needed to effectively manage tidal marshes into the future. Here we quantified three metrics of temporal marsh resilience: time to marsh drowning, time to marsh tipping point, and the probability of a regime shift, defined as the conditional probability of a transition to an alternative super-optimal, suboptimal, or drowned state. We used organic matter content (loss on ignition, LOI) and peat age combined with the Coastal Wetland Equilibrium Model (CWEM) to track wetland development and resilience under different sea-level rise scenarios in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Delta) of California. A 100-year hindcast of the model showed excellent agreement (R2 = 0.96) between observed (2.86 mm/year) and predicted vertical accretion rates (2.98 mm/year) and correctly predicted a recovery in LOI (R2 = 0.76) after the California Gold Rush. Vertical accretion in the tidal freshwater marshes of the Delta is dominated by organic production. The large elevation range of the vegetation combined with high relative marsh elevation provides Delta marshes with resilience and elevation capital sufficiently great to tolerate centenary sea-level rise (CLSR) as high as 200 cm. The initial relative elevation of a marsh was a strong determinant of marsh survival time and tipping point. For a Delta marsh of average elevation, the tipping point at which vertical accretion no longer keeps up with the rate of sea-level rise is 50 years or more. Simulated, triennial additions of 6 mm of sediment via episodic atmospheric rivers increased the proportion of marshes surviving from 51% to 72% and decreased the proportion drowning from 49% to 28%. Our temporal metrics provide critical time frames for adaptively managing marshes, restoring marshes with the best chance of survival, and seizing opportunities for establishing migration corridors, which are all essential for safeguarding future habitats for sensitive species.