Histopathological assessment of seven year-classes of Delta Smelt

Swee J. Teh, Andrew A. Schultz, Wilson Ramírez Duarte, Shawn Acuña, Denise M. Barnard, Randall D. Baxter, Pedro Alejandro Triana Garcia, Bruce G. Hammock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The Delta Smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus) is an imperiled, annual fish endemic to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and San Francisco Estuary. This study examined the severity and prevalence of liver and gill lesions of juvenile through adult Delta Smelt from 2011 through 2017 collected from five regions throughout its habitat (n = 1,053). The first and last years of the study were wet, but bracketed an extreme drought in CA (2012–2016), during which the Delta Smelt population reached historical lows. Overall, the three most common lesions were gill ionocyte hyperplasia, liver lipidosis, and gill aneurysm. Individuals with higher fork lengths exhibited increased gill and liver lesion score (summations of the severity scores), suggesting that Delta Smelt accumulate lesions through their lives, and that larger individuals were more tolerant of liver and gill lesions. Liver lesion score showed significant regional differences, while salinity was a better predictor of gill lesions than region, with lower gill lesion scores associated with higher salinities. Largely consistent with previously reported histopathology patterns, Delta Smelt collected from the Confluence and Suisun Marsh had the lowest liver lesion score, while Delta Smelt collected from Cache Slough and Suisun Bay had the highest lesion scores, and Suisun Marsh had the lowest glycogen depletion, suggesting heterogeneous levels of exposure to environmental stressors across regions. Gill and liver lesion score also varied significantly with year-class. The highest gill lesion score occurred in the 2015/16 year-class, and the lowest occurred in the 2017/18 year-class, a 2.8-fold difference. Controlling for size and regional effects, individuals with comparatively high liver lesion scores were prevalent in the population until the 2014/15 year-class. In the two subsequent year-classes, Delta Smelt livers were in the best condition, coinciding with peak drought conditions and record low abundances.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number138333
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Jul 15 2020


  • Aneurysm
  • Gill
  • Histopathology
  • Ionocyte
  • Lipidosis
  • Liver

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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