Contaminant and food limitation stress in an endangered estuarine fish

Bruce G. Hammock, James A. Hobbs, Steven B. Slater, Shawn Acuña, Swee J Teh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


The abundance of Delta Smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus), a fish species endemic to the upper San Francisco Estuary (SFE), is declining. Several causes for the population decline have been proposed, including food limitation and contaminant effects. Here, using juvenile Delta Smelt collected from throughout their range, we measured a suite of indices across three levels of biological organization (cellular, organ, individual) that reflect fish condition at temporal scales ranging from hours to weeks. Using these indices, the relative conditions of fish collected from five regions in the SFE were compared: Cache Slough, Sacramento River Deep Water Ship Channel, Confluence, Suisun Bay and Suisun Marsh. Fish sampled from Suisun Bay and, to a lesser extent the Confluence, exhibited relatively poor short-term nutritional and growth indices and morphometric condition, while fish from the freshwater regions of the estuary, and Cache Slough in particular, exhibited the most apparent histopathological signs of contaminant exposure. In contrast, fish from the Suisun Marsh region exhibited higher short-term nutrition and growth indices, and better morphometric and histopathological condition. For instance, fish collected from Suisun Marsh had a mean stomach fullness, expressed as a percentage of fish weight, that was 3.4-fold higher than fish collected from Suisun Bay, while also exhibiting an incidence of histopathological lesions that was 11-fold lower than fish collected from Cache Slough. Thus, our findings support the hypothesis that multiple stressors, including food limitation and contaminants, are contributing to the decline of Delta Smelt, and that these stressors influence Delta Smelt heterogeneously across space.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)316-326
Number of pages11
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Nov 1 2015


  • Biomarker
  • Conservation
  • Delta smelt
  • Hypomesus transpacificus
  • Partial migration
  • San Francisco estuary

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering


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