Floodplain farm fields provide novel rearing habitat for Chinook salmon
Ted Sommer, Peter B. Moyle, Joshua Martinez, Jacob Katz, Carson Jeffres, Nicholas Corline, J. Louise Conrad, Steve Brumbaugh | June 7th, 2016
When inundated by floodwaters, river floodplains provide critical habitat for many species of fish and wildlife, but many river valleys have been extensively leveed and floodplain wetlands drained for flood control and agriculture. In the Central Valley of California, USA, where less than 5% of floodplain wetland habitats remain, a critical conservation question is how can farmland occupying the historical floodplains be better managed to improve benefits for native fish and wildlife.
In this study fields on the Sacramento River floodplain were intentionally flooded after the autumn rice harvest to determine if they could provide shallow-water rearing habitat for Sacramento River fall-run Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha). Approximately 10,000 juvenile fish (ca. 48 mm, 1.1 g) were reared on two hectares for six weeks (Feb-March) between the fall harvest and spring planting. A subsample of the fish were uniquely tagged to allow tracking of individual growth rates (average 0.76 mm/day) which were among the highest recorded in fresh water in California. Zooplankton sampled from the water column of the fields were compared to fish stomach contents. The primary prey was zooplankton in the order Cladocera, commonly called water fleas.
The compatibility, on the same farm fields, of summer crop production and native fish habitat during winter demonstrates that land management combining agriculture with conservation ecology may benefit recovery of native fish species, such as endangered Chinook salmon.