Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Rehabilitation of sturgeon populations requires an understanding of sturgeon autecology during all life stages, especially during early life when high mortality occurs. To begin to understand sturgeon early-life history I determined river of origin on a multi-basin scale (i.e., potential rivers of origin). I then determined habitat needs and early life demographics on a more localized scale (i.e., specific river). Trace elements differ between river reaches of the central US and may be used to determine origin of age-0 sturgeon. My trace element analyses suggested that age-0 sturgeon captured in the Middle Mississippi River, which extends from the confluence of the Missouri River downstream to the confluence of the Ohio River, drifted from as far upstream as the Gavins Point Dam on the Missouri River (> 1200 km), while other individuals originated locally in the Middle Mississippi River. On a more refined scale of habitats, I used trawling to identify habitat features used. Age-0 Scaphirhynchus sturgeon catch rates were highest around artificial structures (i.e., wing dikes) and island areas while main channel habitat comprised the lowest catch rates. Within these habitats, young sturgeon frequently occupied low velocities (i.e., ~0.1), moderate depths (i.e., 2 to 5 m), and sand substrate. Although determination of river of origin and specific habitats used are imperative for restoration, sturgeon populations are likely regulated by factors within habitats that affect early-life dynamics. Mean sturgeon growth rates ranged from 1.42-1.50 mm/d over the four years but did not differ among years. Individuals hatched over a 25 to 50-d period and peak hatch dates were between 10- 20 May during all years. Hatching coincided with optimum spawning temperatures of 17-20oC and a rise in river stage. Abundance was positively related to river stage, with longer durations of high water related increasing abundance. Mortality of age-0 sturgeon increased with the number of days where water temperature exceeded 28 oC. In the end this study has set benchmarks for understanding factors affecting the early-life ecology of Scaphirhynchus sturgeon.
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