South Sound Science Symposium poster presenter audio

During the liveblog of the South Sound Science Symposium, I wrote about solely what was being said on stage. But, there were a dozen or so poster presenters talking about their research as well. Here are a couple of those presenters.

Rana Brown is taking a look at how geoduck aquaculture might be impacting local ecosystems. Here is some audio of Rana talking about here research (you can can download the original file here). Rana is a shellfish technician with the Squaxin Island Tribe.

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Here is the description of Rana’s research from the symposium:

Geoduck aquaculture has been a lucrative and controversial business for decades in Washington State. Recently, as more intertidal lands are converted to geoduck farms, concerns have been raised over the effects of these farms on local ecosystems. In 2007 the state legislature passed Bill 2220 which created a program within Sea Grant (University of Washington) to identify research goals and then to conduct research as needed. One area of concern is how these farms, and the way in which they are operated, are affecting biodiversity in Puget Sound. One argument is that these farms are (or eventually become) a monoculture, and that ultimately they are lowering biodiversity in areas in which they are located. This proposed research project will investigate these claims and attempt to determine if geoduck farming operations affect biodiversity of benthic mobile fauna. Two stages of geoduck aquaculture will be tested for differences. One treatment group will be that which has recently been planted and has tubes with blanket netting. The other will be a bed that is in grow-out phase that has no predator protections. Testing these two treatments should allow me to identify if the associated structures and/or geoduck presence are having any impacts on the local community structure. Research locations will be in southern Puget Sound with sampling beginning in May 2009 and ending in October 2009.

Sarah Haque tracked cutthroat trout throughout South Sound, finding some interesting results. You can download her description here. Sarah is a habitat biologist with the Squaxin Island Tribe.

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Here is the rundown on her research from the symposium:

Few studies have focused on the anadromous life-history form of coastal cutthroat. Migratory pathways of coastal cutthroat, especially short-distance estuarine migrations, are even less understood. Previous studies on coastal cutthroat trout primarily focused on freshwater systems and described spawning and rearing characteristics, population structures, and genetics of the freshwater life-history forms. This study collected baseline data on movements and nearshore habitat use of two sample populations (Totten-Little Skookum Inlets and Squaxin/Hope Island) of anadromous coastal cutthroat trout in South Puget Sound using acoustic tracking technology. A total of forty cutthroat were captured in their marine environment, surgically implanted with acoustic transmitters and tracked for eight months via a network of multi-channel acoustic receivers placed throughout the deep South Sound area of South Puget Sound. Analysis suggested a difference in movement patterns and distances traveled between sample populations; however, the overall trend for both sample groups was a movement towards the extreme terminal areas of the study area. A significant difference (P<0.05) in movements in relation to sizeclass was found in both populations. Analysis of associations between movements of coastal cutthroat trout and chum salmon migrations suggested the Totten-Little Skookum Inlets group displayed movement patterns that closely followed both adult and juvenile chum salmon migrations. However, movement patterns displayed from the Squaxin/Hope Island group did not reveal this same behavior, indicating a lack of large-scale movements from broader and deeper-water areas into more defined inlets in response to temporally discrete chum salmon migrations. Data also suggested that anadromous coastal cutthroat in South Puget Sound may have a home range distinct from Central and North Puget Sound and may heavily utilize specific habitats, such as Skookum Inlet, during the fall and winter months.

South Sound Science: Human Influences on the Deschutes River, Capitol Lake & Budd Inlet

Mindy Roberts at the state Department of Ecology, presents on:

Human Influences on the Deschutes River, Capitol Lake & Budd Inlet. Human activities have unintentionally unraveled a variety of ecological processes manifested in high water temperatures, bacteria concentrations, and fine sediment levels, as well as low dissolved oxygen concentrations.

Notes from her talk:

Budd Inlet, Capitol Lake, and Deschutes River are microcosms of the problems of Puget Sound.

Why impound the Deschutes estuary? There is a tendency to romanticize the past. Not only was there industrial waste, there was a lot of human waste

When the tide went out on Little Hollywood (a poor community on the tideflats), the tide literally stank. Capitol Lake was created a more beautiful place.

They did this without knowing the water quality problems it would create.

Also, filling in tidelands was common, nearly destroying the tidal prism. The water has nowhere to go. This probably impacted the circulation in southern Puget Sound.

Circulation stagnates in Budd Inlet and Capitol lake because of damming and fill, making the area more sensitive to inputs. So, if any pollution comes down, it will stay there for awhile.

With a push of the button, they took out the Lake, and saw what happened. Fewer portions would reflect the impact of nutrients, simply because circulation came back.

In the freshwater Deschutes system, it gets cooler as you move down the watershed because of freshwater inputs. If you model a mature forest, the temperature pattern stays the same, but with a overall drop in temperature, making the entire watershed good for fish.

Adding trees also improves dissolved oxygen situation on the river.

Questions and Answers

Effects of die-off of freshwater biota in the saltwater?

They did.

Does only considering only point sources change the restoration strategy?

They’re still working on the project, so will include non-point sources. They’re considering the impacts of everything.

Did you include a sediment transportation study associated with Capitol Lake?

They did include the information from that study, did use their output when putting together the model.

South Sound Science: Changes in the Abundance of Shorebirds at Kennedy Creek Estuary.

Joe Buchanan of Cascadia Research and WA Department of Fish & Wildlife on:

Potential influence of species interactions among native and/or exotic species on shorebird abundance suggests that establishing baseline conditions for monitoring will require a greater understanding of community dynamics in estuarine ecosystems.

Notes from Joe’s talk:

Visited Kennedy Creek from 1980 through 2008, with few visits between 1989 to 1998 (23 of over 1,000 visits total).

Increase in Black Bellied Plover in the mid-80s from 200 to 1,000.

Greater Yellow Legs, Kennedy Creek used to house a large population of these birds. From 1975 to currently, the counts have dropped from around 25 to near zero.

Western Sandpiper populations have also dropped from daily high counts of +5,000 to 16. “That’s one-six.”

He also talked about dunlin numbers (which have dropped) and residency time (which has decreased).

Black Bellied plover numbers are likely connected to chum salmon, more salmon more birds.

Western sandpiper connected to restoration of perigrain falcon restoration. More falcons force sandpipers out of smaller areas. Might be same with Dunlin.

Questions and Answers:

Are you seeing less falcons?

Yes, I’m seeing more falcons, and less merlins. They’re clearly in charge.

What might be changing the timing?

In 2002 perigrain falcons began reappearing, so it made the smaller estuary at Kennedy Creek a less safe area for smaller birds.

South Sound Science: Nisqually Chinook Population Response to Large-Scale Estuary Restoration.

Chris Ellings, restoration biologist with the Nisqually Tribe, presenting on:

A study of Chinook distribution, feeding behavior, growth, and estuary residence to provide a baseline comparison for how the population may respond to large-scale ecosystem restoration.

Notes from Chris’s presentation:

Predicting a large response for restoring the Nisqually River estuary. So, what are the linkages between estuary restoration and more chinook smolts?

Wanted to look at broad distribution of chinook across the entire estuary and the nearby nearshore.

Studied otololith rings, which are earbones which give them an idea of where the fish are spending their time.

High abundance of chinook and chum in May and June. The entire estuary is a busy place in May through July.

Wanted to focus on natural origin fish, and how they use the estuary and where they stay. Reside there for an average of 16 days.

There are differences in natural origin chinook usage in two different sites. Less long term use in a restoration site that was shallower. In a deeper channel, there is longer usage by chinook.

They also looked at the diets of the fish using the site and compare that to what insects were available. Both wild and hatchery fish feed on the insects that were available at the time, wild fish with a broader diversity.

South Sound Science: Question from the at home audience

Jeanette Dorner from the Nisqually Tribe emailed in a question from Jennifer Ruesink’s presentation:

Did Jennifer from UW have any conclusions about the impact of aquaculture on South Sound health?  Or is she still investigating the question?

John Konvsky, who followed Jennifer’s presnation a lot closer than I did, was able to reply:

…her research goes the other way, its the impact of land management and land use on oysters, not the impact of oysters on the ecosystem. She did raise the possibility at the end that the removal of Pacific oysters from Totten Inlet is keeping Totten within the carrying capacity for nutrients.

South Sound Science: A regional effort to select environmental indicators for Puget Sound

Sandie O’Neill from NOAAA is giving a lunch keynote address on:

Regional Effort to Select Environmental Indicators for the Puget Sound. Where we’ve been, where we’re going, and South Sound involvement.

Notes from Sandie’s talk:

One of the uses of indicators is to keep policy makers up to speed on progress.

Must be science based, but also resonate with the public.

There can be a disconnect between science and policy. For example, Puget Sound Partnership wanted 10 or so indicators while science folks showed examples of 600 indicators being used in other areas.

Potential indicators for water quality could include oil spills or annual maximum daily flows.

Jeff Dickison asks the group what should be on the list for South Puget Sound. Here is the list (transcribed by John Konovsky):

  • Variances to shoreline management plan
  • Dissolved oxygen
  • Land use/cover
  • micro algea
  • Nutrients
  • Index of indicators to simply the presentation to public
  • Forage fish, use more than herring
  • Stormwater, effects on contaminants (complicated topic)
  • Sediment
  • “Nursery area”
  • Forage fish spawning beds.
  • Travel time of water downriver

South Sound Science: Mysterious Pre-spawn Mortality of Coho Salmon in Urbanized Streams

Blake Feist of the NOAA/Northwest Fisheries Science Center on:

New predictive, spatially explicit model of coho pre-spawn mortality rates for the eastern Puget Sound basin.

Notes from his talk:

Over the past 10 years, people have been seeing coho salmon dying before they spawn. Sometimes within hours of returning to the streams.

What is causing the prespawn mortality?

Car exhaust? There are a lot of chemicals (lead, benzine, etc) coming from cars and car exhausts.

In Longfellow Creek, there seems to be a correlation between rain and prespawn mortality. There is something being washed out by the rain that is killing the fish.

The purpose of the study was to create a pre-spawn mortality model to predict the phenomena.

The study focused on largely urbanized creeks, the least urbanized (and reference creek) was Fortson Creek. Forston had a .9 percent pre-spawn mortality.

The study looked at variable such as traffic flow, road types, tree cover.

There is a relationship between heavily used roads and pre-spawn deaths of coho salmon.

Questions and Answers:

Why aren’t all the fish dying in the stream?

Chum and chinook are not impacted. Even coho smolts are not impacted. Don’t know why.

Was there pre-spawn mortality more than 10 years ago?

It was likely that it was going on longer.

South Sound Science: Geographic Patterns of Fish and Jellyfish in South Sound Surface Waters

Casey Rice of the NOAA/Northwest Fisheries Science Center talks about Jellyfish in South Puget Sound.

Study explores whether changes in fish and jellyfish distribution are natural history footnotes or potential indicators of ecological health.

From Casey’s talk:

Among his conclusions:

Jellyfish is a major competent of biota.

There is an inverse relationship between jellyfish and overall fish abundance and diversity.

Jellyfish are not bad. They are a widely diverse group. “Jellyfish are people too.”

More research is needed, “we really need to do these field studies.”

Questions and Answers:

Are they being impacted by same factors, but they’re just more resilient?

They can be. Diets, passive feeding, won’t starve and die in a low oxygen environment.

You may miss some needed data by looking at only a portion of the year.

They would get more year round data if they did the research again. Not just across the year, but across the entire area.