Date of Award
Master of Science
Due to habitat degradation and overharvest (Colombo et al. 2007) sturgeon populations are declining throughout their global distribution (Pikitch et al. 2005). In North America, five sturgeon species are listed as endangered or threatened due to overharvest and habitat degradation. One species of direct concern is the pallid sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus albus ) (Boreman 1997). The morphologically similar shovelnose sturgeon (S. platorynchus) is not listed as endangered but has become a cause for concern due to poor reproductive success and declining recruitment of their offspring to the adult population, likely a result of lack of proper spawning habitat and early life foraging opportunities (Wildhaber et al. 2007). Despite listing the pallid sturgeon as endangered and increasing concern about population decline, little information is available about the foraging ecology of age–0 Scaphirhynchus sturgeon. To ensure these sturgeon populations persist in the Middle Mississippi River, a better understanding of sturgeon foraging success during early life is imperative. I quantified age–0 Scaphirhynchus sturgeon (total length (TL) range: 14–200 mm; small < 50 mm TL, large 50–200 mm TL) diets during 2004–2008 to determine whether foraging behavior changed as a function of stage height, water temperature, water velocity, size class of sturgeon, and macrohabitat. I also examined whether energy density (cal/g) and selection of prey varied across size class and macrohabitat. Age–0 Scaphirhynchus sturgeon were collected from the Middle Mississippi River during spring (March, April, May), summer (June, July, August), and fall (September, October, November). Each prey item in diets was identified to family and measured to calculate dry weight. Ephemeroptera, Diptera pupae, and Chironomidae were the dominant taxa that were consumed across all years and seasons. Large sturgeon had a broader diet, consuming more non–dominant taxa. Abiotic factors differed across macrohabitats and thus influenced foraging behavior. Sturgeon occupying the island upstream tip (IUT) macrohabitat had the largest mean mass in diet and those at the island downstream tip (IDT) had the lowest mean mass in diet. Conversely, energy density of sturgeon was highest at IDT and lowest at IUT. Small sturgeon avoided macroinvertebrates that were outside the dominant prey taxa whereas large sturgeon selected for Chironomidae across all macrohabitats. Diets of age–0 Scaphirhynchus sturgeon vary as a function of size and are influenced by interacting of abiotic and biotic factors at each macrohabitat. As age–0 Scaphirhynchus sturgeon grow, their diet broadens. Diet of young sturgeon interacts with energy condition in counterintuitive ways that requires more study. Because foraging success differs among habitats and is likely linked to recruitment, habitat quality and quantity in the Middle Mississippi River is likely critical for sturgeon population density and growth.
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