Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Changes in aquatic prey resources in response to estuary restoration in Willapa Bay, southwestern Washington

December 19, 2018

Executive Summary

The ongoing restoration of more than 200 hectares of estuarine habitat at Willapa National Wildlife Refuge, southwestern Washington, is expected to benefit a variety of species, including salmonids that use estuarine and tidal marshes as rearing and feeding areas as well as migratory waterbirds. During March–June 2014 and 2015, U.S. Geological Survey Western Ecological Research Center (WERC) initiated a study to assess aquatic prey resources, in coordination with a separate but parallel fish study done by the Columbia River Estuary Study Taskforce. WERC collected data on environmental variables and invertebrate community structure, and the taskforce provided salmonid diet data at restored (Lewis Stream and Porter Point) and reference (Greenhead Slough and Ellsworth Creek) sites. We analyzed these data to determine the functional capacity of the estuary for supporting invertebrate prey resources for fish following restoration.

The results of our analyses were as follows:

  • Water temperatures were roughly 0.74 degrees Celsius warmer in 2015 than in 2014 at all sites, with potential consequences for salmonid bioenergetics in June and July.
  • Mudflat was colonized by low marsh species such as pickleweed from 2014 to 2015 at restored Lewis Stream. Vegetation community structure remained stable at Greenhead Slough, Ellsworth Creek, and Porter Point in both years, and consisted of halophilic sedges (for example, Carex lyngbyei) and saltgrass (Distichlis spicata).
  • Benthic invertebrate community structure consisted of Polychaeta, Nematoda, Oligochaeta, Amphipoda, and Diptera larvae, all of which contribute to the foraging capacity of juvenile salmon and migratory shorebirds. Benthic invertebrate biomass increased as much as 30-fold at some sites from 2014 to 2015.
  • Terrestrial invertebrate community structure was dominated by Dipteran flies, especially at restored Lewis Stream, which primarily was unvegetated in 2014. Other key taxa included Hemiptera, Arachnida, and Collembola.
  • Aquatic invertebrate prey consisted of planktonic taxa and terrestrial invertebrate drift that fell into the water column from overhanging vegetation. The restored Porter Point had markedly fewer Copepoda, but had the highest levels of neuston biomass primarily due to Dipteran drift (terrestrial flies that fell into the water column).
  • Average proportion similarity index (PSI) values between salmon diet and invertebrate prey availability were relatively low at all sites (<0.1), but were highest at the restored Lewis Stream (0.105±0.102). This likely was influenced by the predominance of Diptera in the surrounding habitat and in the diets of juvenile Chinook and chum salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha and O. keta, respectively).
  • The invasive New Zealand mud snail (Potamopyrgus antipodarum) was detected at both Lewis Stream (8 out of 34 aquatic and benthic samples) and Porter Point (1 out of 32 aquatic and benthic samples) restoration sites, but not at reference sites Greenhead Slough or Ellsworth Creek. This invasive species has been observed throughout the Pacific Northwest coastline is not palatable to most fish (including salmonids) and may even be detrimental to some fish species.
  • Although invertebrate communities differed between restored and reference sites, invertebrate biomass at the restored Lewis Stream and Porter Point was like or exceeded that of reference sites Greenhead Slough and Ellsworth Creek. The restored sites are still in the early phases of restoration and succession, but our study suggests they have the capacity to support foraging wildlife species such as salmonids.
Publication Year 2018
Title Changes in aquatic prey resources in response to estuary restoration in Willapa Bay, southwestern Washington
DOI 10.3133/ofr20181194
Authors Isa Woo, Melanie J. Davis, Susan E. W. De La Cruz
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2018-1194
Index ID ofr20181194
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center