Date of Award
Master of Science
The Sacramento River watershed provides important rearing habitat for key aquatic species, including juvenile Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha). Salmon rearing in the watershed may inhabit the mainstem river channel or a corresponding floodplain, the Yolo Bypass, before migrating to the ocean. Studies of juvenile salmon have indicated that floodplain rearing may be beneficial in terms of growth and survival, likely related to different trophic pathways of the river and floodplain. However, fish also encounter many anthropogenic stressors in these habitats, such as pesticides, which have well-documented use and environmental presence in the region. Rearing individuals are potentially exposed to pesticides via trophic transfer, which may vary based on utilized food webs due to hydrophobic pesticide fate and transport. To examine the food web structure of each system and the potential for pesticide exposure through dietary routes, a two-year field study was completed. First, to characterize dietary contributions, a three-tiered approach incorporating stable isotopes (δ13C, δ15N and δ34S), essential fatty acids and gut content analyses was employed. Subsequently, pesticides were extracted from prey items and salmon and analyzed to determine contaminant residues. Stable isotope analyses indicated that critically important components of juvenile Chinook diet were amphipoda and adult diptera in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Amphipoda groups had higher concentrations of the fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an important component for fish development, than juvenile diptera or oligochaeta. Diptera (larvae and adults) were frequently found in juvenile Chinook stomachs from both areas and years. Throughout the pesticide examination, organochlorines including the DDT group (p,p’-DDT, p,p’-DDD and p,p’-DDE) were prevalent in all examined biota. There were a significantly greater number of pyrethroid and phenylpyrazole detections and concentrations in zooplankton as compared to macroinvertebrates (Poisson regression, p < 0.05) across regions and years. Additionally, significantly higher concentrations of organochlorines were exhibited in floodplain rearing fish as compared to the Sacramento River (ANOVA, p < 0.05). These findings suggest that juvenile Chinook feeding primarily on zooplankton may be exposed to a greater range of pesticides than those exhibiting benthic feeding, but these pelagic prey were not demonstrated as a major dietary item during the two-year study. Additionally, the previously inferred benefits of floodplain rearing may come at a cost of increased organochlorine exposure. This research has allowed for a robust assessment of potential trophic transfer of pesticides to juvenile salmon, which may help inform future floodplain restoration efforts.
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