Macrofaunal and isotopic estimates of the former extent of the Colorado River estuary, upper Gulf of California, México

Carlie A. Rodriguez, Karl W. Flessa, Miguel A. Téllez-Duarte, David L. Dettman, Guillermo A. Ávila-Serrano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Faunal and isotopic evidence can be used to reconstruct the zone of fresh water influence of the Colorado River prior to its diversion for agricultural and domestic uses. The beaches and islands of the Colorado delta are predominantly composed of shells of the bivalve mollusk Mulinia coloradoensis. The shells date from before the construction of upstream dams, and δ18O values from the shells are significantly more negative than δ18O values from species living in the delta today. Both faunal and isotopic evidence indicate that M. coloradoensis is a brackish water species that thrived when the river flowed into the Gulf. The proportion of empty shells of M. coloradoensis ranges from 80-95% near the river's mouth to only 25% 65 km to the south. Shells of the species are rare to absent 80 km south of the mouth of the river. Macrofaunal evidence indicates a mixing zone extending as far as 65 km along the western shore of the upper Gulf of California. Average δ18O values in shells of M. coloradoensis become more positive with increasing distance from the river's mouth, reflecting the greater dilution of river water with normal salinity Gulf water. Average δ18O values in the fossil shells approach values in live bivalve mollusks at a distance 65 km south of the mouth of the river indicating that the mixing zone of the former Colorado River extended at least 65 km from its mouth. The effect of virgin Colorado River flow in the upper Gulf of California was geographically extensive.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)183-193
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Arid Environments
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2001


  • Bivalve mollusks
  • Colorado River
  • Colorado River delta
  • Gulf of California
  • Mulinia coloradoensis
  • Oxygen isotopes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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