Spill at dams has caused supersaturation of atmospheric gas in waters of the Columbia and Snake rivers and raised concerns about the effects of dissolved gas supersaturation (DGS) on white sturgeons Acipenser transmontanus. The timing and location of white sturgeon spawning and the dispersal of white sturgeon larvae from incubation areas makes the larval stage potentially vulnerable to the effects of DGS. To assess the effects of DGS on white sturgeon larvae, we exposed larvae to mean total dissolved gas (TDG) levels of 118% and 131% saturation in laboratory bioassay tests. Gas bubble trauma (GBT) was manifested as a gas bubble in the buccal cavity, nares, or both and it first occurred at developmental stages characterized by the formation of the mouth and gills. Exposure times of 15 min were sufficient to elicit these signs in larvae in various stages of development. No mortality was observed in larvae exposed to 118% TDG for 10 d, but 50% mortality occurred after a 13-d exposure to 131% TDG. The signs of GBT we observed resulted in positive buoyancy and alterations in behavior that may affect the dispersal and predation vulnerability of white sturgeon larvae. The exact depth distribution of dispersing white sturgeon larvae in the Columbia River currently is unknown. Thus, our results may represent a worst-case scenario if white sturgeon larvae are dispersed at depths with insufficient hydrostatic pressure to compensate for high TDG levels.
Additional publication details
The effects of dissolved gas supersaturation on white sturgeon larvae