Variability in coastal habitat available for Longfin Smelt Spirinchus thaleichthys in the northeastern Pacific Ocean

Frontiers in Marine Science
By: , and 



An understanding of oceanographic conditions and processes important to marine animal ecology is fundamental to the development of effective management and conservation actions. Longfin Smelt (Spirinchus thaleichthys) is a pelagic forage fish found in coastal and estuarine waters along the Pacific coast of North America from Alaska to central California. Substantial population declines in California’s San Francisco Estuary, where Longfin Smelt are protected under California’s Endangered Species Act, have prompted extensive study of estuarine factors associated with the decline. However, coastal factors that affect up to two-thirds of the Longfin Smelt life cycle are poorly understood and may be important drivers of population dynamics. We compiled coastal observations from numerous sources to estimate the range-wide coastal marine distribution of Longfin Smelt and assess habitat factors affecting distribution in the northeast Pacific Ocean. Based on maximum entropy species distribution models, Longfin Smelt distribution was correlated with depth, distance from the nearest estuary, sea surface temperature, and sea surface chlorophyll. Longfin Smelt were found in shallow, higher productivity coastal waters closer to estuaries, with depth and temperature the most consistent factors influencing distribution. Habitat suitability was highly variable at the southern extent of the range, particularly off the California coast, and was largely driven by habitat contractions associated with warm-water conditions. Study results provide insights into the habitat and range-wide distribution of an at-risk estuarine-reliant forage fish and are the first step toward identifying processes that affect the marine portion of the Longfin Smelt life cycle.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Variability in coastal habitat available for Longfin Smelt Spirinchus thaleichthys in the northeastern Pacific Ocean
Series title Frontiers in Marine Science
DOI 10.3389/fmars.2024.1282286
Volume 11
Year Published 2024
Language English
Publisher Frontiers
Contributing office(s) California Water Science Center
Description 1282286, 13 p.
Country Canada, United States
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