Document Details

DRERIP Ecosystem Conceptual Model: Delta Aquatic Foodweb

John Durand | October 3rd, 2008

This model is a stylization of the actual food web dynamics of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which are highly dynamic. The region itself comprises a variety of habitats, determined by salinity regimes, residence time, hydrology, benthos and physical structure. These physical parameters, or drivers, determine species composition and trophic relationships. The Delta is a tidal system which is subject to varying water inflow. Because inflow and outflow vary as the result of anthropogenic alterations and water management needs, habitats are not static. Rather they are subject to hourly, daily, seasonal and inter-annual variation, and different organisms respond in different ways to these time scales, depending upon their own life histories.

Thus salinity and temperature regimes may create different outcomes from food web interactions, based upon how species distributional and recruitment patterns overlap. In general, food web linkages are not static or linear. Organisms switch feeding strategies opportunistically, and these patterns of variability in feeding strategy tend to increase with trophic level. Many organisms, particularly plankton, undergo many generations in the course of a year, and selective forces may allow for rapid evolution which can alter habitat preferences or other life history characteristics.

The Delta food web is further dynamic in that new species are regularly introduced into the Estuary, competing with, replacing, or preying upon other organisms. For example, the overbite clam, Corbula amurensis, was introduced in 1986, precipitating a cascade of changes that are still not wholly understood. Zebra and quagga mussels are expected to invade the Delta within the next few years, and will bring further changes.

The topology of a food web model will be necessarily complex given these factors. Even without such variability, the potential linkages create a spider web of relationships that is difficult if not impossible to disentangle. In order to create a working model of the Delta food web that is useful for education, for hypothesis?generation, and for management decision?making, it is necessary to create limits to what linkages will be examined.

In order to do this, this Delta food web model focuses on organisms that supply food for fish. This is particularly important given the recent concern for pelagic organism decline, which is described mostly for fishes, some of which are listed as endangered or threatened. A key assumption is that fish are integrators of ecosystem function.

Also included in the model are invasive organisms that have a large impact on food web dynamics (such as C. amurensis), as are organisms that are particularly abundant (such as the copepod Limnoithona tetraspina), whether or not they are used directly by fish.


bioassessment, fisheries, invasive species, modeling, Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta