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Yuma Ridgway’s rail selenium exposure and occupancy within managed and unmanaged emergent marshes at the Salton Sea

May 18, 2022

Yuma Ridgway’s rail (Rallus obsoletus yumanensis, hereafter, rail) is an endangered species for which patches of emergent marsh within the Salton Sea watershed comprise a substantial part of habitat for the species’ disjointed range in the southwestern United States. These areas of emergent marsh include (1) marshes managed by federal (particularly the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge), state (California Department of Fish and Wildlife), and local (Imperial Irrigation District) resource agencies that are sustained by direct deliveries of Colorado River water and (2) unmanaged marshes sustained by agricultural drainage water. Management of rail habitat in this arid environment is complicated by increasingly limited availability of unimpaired freshwater owing to water management decisions associated with the Quantification Settlement Agreement and risks posed by potentially harmful concentrations of selenium found in agricultural drainage water that can readily bioaccumulate in aquatic food webs.

To provide timely science for managers, herein we report summary statistics for managed and unmanaged emergent marshes sampled at the Salton Sea during the rail breeding season of 2016 pertaining to (1) selenium concentrations in food webs representing dietary pathways of selenium exposure and (2) patterns of rail occupancy and inter-marsh movements, estimated abundance, and regional population size of rail. For selenium-specific objectives, we sampled unfiltered surface water, midge larvae (Chironomidae), water boatmen (Corixidae), mosquitofish (Gambusia spp.), and crayfish (Astacidae). Selenium samples were collected from 15 fixed sampling points, each in managed and unmanaged marshes, during late February, April, and June 2016, which corresponded to rail pre-nesting, nesting, and fledgling reproductive life-stages, respectively. Two areas within the two treatment types (managed versus unmanaged marsh) were of particular interest to help assess risks associated with changing sea dynamics and different water-management strategies: (1) a large unmanaged marsh (Morton Bay) unintentionally created in approximately 2008 when it became separated from the Salton Sea as water inflows began to drop and a berm formed from accumulated sediment and (2) a restored marsh (HZ9A) managed by the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, which is currently supplied with Colorado River water but may be sustained in the future by a blend of clean (that is, low selenium) Colorado River and agricultural drainage water with higher selenium from the Alamo River. Hence, baseline data for these marshes are important for future management decisions. We also report selenium concentrations in rail blood, head feathers, and breast feathers from rails captured as part of the movement study. Results indicated relatively higher risks from dietary selenium exposure for rails occupying unmanaged marshes compared to managed marshes and similar risks among unmanaged marshes. However, risks also were potentially elevated for rails occupying some managed marshes (that is, the Hazard Marshes), where relatively high proportions of Chironomidae and mosquitofish exceeded dietary thresholds for selenium effects on avian reproduction.

For rail-specific objectives, we quantified occupancy and spatial distribution using call count data analyzed with imperfect detection models. Imperfect detection models allowed us to jointly estimate detection probability and abundance of detected rails in association with habitats. We then used estimates of detection probability and abundance at the habitat level to extrapolate rail population abundance for the Salton Sea region. Inter- and intra-marsh movements were described from over 5,000 locations obtained from 15 radio-marked rails. Resultant space use patterns indicated that, in general, selenium risk to individuals is not equally shared because of high levels of territoriality and very limited movement throughout the landscape. Moreover, the largest contiguous blocks of habitat are associated with unmanaged marshlands located on the former southeastern shoreline and outside traditional management areas and authorities. Thus, a substantial proportion of the rail population that is using unmanaged marsh on the southeastern shoreline may have disproportionate risk of elevated selenium exposure, yet how that risk translates to population-level effects remains unknown.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2022
Title Yuma Ridgway’s rail selenium exposure and occupancy within managed and unmanaged emergent marshes at the Salton Sea
DOI 10.3133/ofr20221045
Authors Mark A. Ricca, Cory T. Overton, Thomas W. Anderson, Angela Merritt, Eamon Harrity, Elliott Matchett, Michael L. Casazza
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2022-1045
Index ID ofr20221045
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center

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