Through the Looking Glass: Early Development of Pallid Sturgeon and Shovelnose Sturgeon

Presentation by biologist Kimberly Chojnacki, U.S. Geological Survey, River Studies Branch

Recent research into the endangered pallid sturgeon has focused on the very early stages of life of these long-lived, prehistoric fish. Biologist Kim Chojnacki some of the latest fascinating and cutting-edge research giving a peek into this very difficult to monitor fish.

Published: March 10, 2020

The endangered pallid sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus albus) and more common shovelnose sturgeon (S. platorynchus) are long-lived fishes native to the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and their larger tributaries.  Pallid sturgeon declined with large-scale habitat changes, fragmentation, and altered flows in the Missouri River.  Few reproductive adult pallid sturgeon remain.

2 DPH sturgeon
These pallid sturgeon larvae are 2 days post-hatch and receive all of their nutrition from their large yolk sac.
photo courtesy of USGS.

Despite observations of pallid sturgeon spawning, evidence from various monitoring efforts suggest that few young are produced and survive to become adults.  The specific reasons for the lack of reproductive success are uncertain, but evidence suggests that reproductive bottlenecks may occur during the sensitive, earliest life stages.  This uncertainty has recently focused research of the Comprehensive Sturgeon Research Project at the U.S. Geological Survey, Columbia Environmental Research Center toward understanding of the early-life stages of both of these species from the time eggs are deposited on the river bottom to the time young fish begin feeding.

Recent laboratory, mesocosm, and modeling studies, used to assess factors affecting survival of these early-life stages was presented.  Findings from these studies are designed to improve understanding of the interactions of early-life stages with physical processes in the river that result in changes in survival probability and to create quantitative links between management actions and population-level results.

Kim is a Biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, Columbia Environmental Research Center, in Columbia Missouri.  She is a principal investigator with the Comprehensive Sturgeon Research Project, a large-scale and multi-disciplinary research project to determine factors affecting the reproductive ecology and population dynamics of the endangered pallid sturgeon in the Missouri River.

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