Project description:Cercarial dermatitis (swimmer's itch) is caused by the penetration of human skin by cercariae of schistosome parasites that develop in and are released from snail hosts. Cercarial dermatitis is frequently acquired in freshwater habitats, and less commonly in marine or estuarine waters. To investigate reports of a dermatitis outbreak in San Francisco Bay, California, we surveyed local snails for schistosome infections during 2005-2008. We found schistosomes only in Haminoea japonica, an Asian snail first reported in San Francisco Bay in 1999. Genetic markers place this schistosome within a large clade of avian schistosomes, but do not match any species for which there are genetic data. It is the second known schistosome species to cause dermatitis in western North American coastal waters; these species are transmitted by exotic snails. Introduction of exotic hosts can support unexpected emergence of an unknown parasite with serious medical or veterinary implications.
Project description:Recovering species are often limited to much smaller areas than they historically occupied. Conservation planning for the recovering species is often based on this limited range, which may simply be an artifact of where the surviving population persisted. Southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis) were hunted nearly to extinction but recovered from a small remnant population on a remote stretch of the California outer coast, where most of their recovery has occurred. However, studies of recently-recolonized estuaries have revealed that estuaries can provide southern sea otters with high quality habitats featuring shallow waters, high production and ample food, limited predators, and protected haul-out opportunities. Moreover, sea otters can have strong effects on estuarine ecosystems, fostering seagrass resilience through their consumption of invertebrate prey. Using a combination of literature reviews, population modeling, and prey surveys we explored the former estuarine habitats outside the current southern sea otter range to determine if these estuarine habitats can support healthy sea otter populations. We found the majority of studies and conservation efforts have focused on populations in exposed, rocky coastal habitats. Yet historical evidence indicates that sea otters were also formerly ubiquitous in estuaries. Our habitat-specific population growth model for California's largest estuary-San Francisco Bay-determined that it alone can support about 6,600 sea otters, more than double the 2018 California population. Prey surveys in estuaries currently with (Elkhorn Slough and Morro Bay) and without (San Francisco Bay and Drakes Estero) sea otters indicated that the availability of prey, especially crabs, is sufficient to support healthy sea otter populations. Combining historical evidence with our results, we show that conservation practitioners could consider former estuarine habitats as targets for sea otter and ecosystem restoration. This study reveals the importance of understanding how recovering species interact with all the ecosystems they historically occupied, both for improved conservation of the recovering species and for successful restoration of ecosystem functions and processes.
Project description:Ecological observations sustained over decades often reveal abrupt changes in biological communities that signal altered ecosystem states. We report a large shift in the biological communities of San Francisco Bay, first detected as increasing phytoplankton biomass and occurrences of new seasonal blooms that began in 1999. This phytoplankton increase is paradoxical because it occurred in an era of decreasing wastewater nutrient inputs and reduced nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations, contrary to the guiding paradigm that algal biomass in estuaries increases in proportion to nutrient inputs from their watersheds. Coincidental changes included sharp declines in the abundance of bivalve mollusks, the key phytoplankton consumers in this estuary, and record high abundances of several bivalve predators: Bay shrimp, English sole, and Dungeness crab. The phytoplankton increase is consistent with a trophic cascade resulting from heightened predation on bivalves and suppression of their filtration control on phytoplankton growth. These community changes in San Francisco Bay across three trophic levels followed a state change in the California Current System characterized by increased upwelling intensity, amplified primary production, and strengthened southerly flows. These diagnostic features of the East Pacific "cold phase" lead to strong recruitment and immigration of juvenile flatfish and crustaceans into estuaries where they feed and develop. This study, built from three decades of observation, reveals a previously unrecognized mechanism of ocean-estuary connectivity. Interdecadal oceanic regime changes can propagate into estuaries, altering their community structure and efficiency of transforming land-derived nutrients into algal biomass.