Ecological Requirements for Pallid Sturgeon Reproduction and Recruitment in the Lower Missouri River: A Research Synthesis 2005-08

Scientific Investigations Report 2009-5201

Prepared in cooperation with the Missouri River Recovery?Integrated Science Program U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Yankton, South Dakota
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This report provides a synthesis of results obtained between 2005 and 2008 from the Comprehensive Sturgeon Research Program, an interagency collaboration between the U.S. Geological Survey, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Missouri River Recovery - Integrated Science Program. The goal of the Comprehensive Sturgeon Research Program is to improve fundamental understanding of reproductive ecology of the pallid sturgeon with the intent that improved understanding will inform river and species management decisions. Specific objectives include: *Determining movement, habitat-use, and reproductive behavior of pallid sturgeon; *Understanding reproductive physiology of pallid sturgeon and relations to environmental conditions; *Determining origin, transport, and fate of drifting pallid sturgeon larvae, and evaluating bottlenecks for recruitment of early life stages; *Quantifying availability and dynamics of aquatic habitats needed by pallid sturgeon for all life stages; and *Managing databases, integrating understanding, and publishing relevant information into the public domain. Management actions to increase reproductive success and survival of pallid sturgeon in the Lower Missouri River have been focused on flow regime, channel morphology, and propagation. Integration of 2005-08 Comprehensive Sturgeon Research Program research provides insight into linkages among flow regime, re-engineered channel morphology, and pallid sturgeon reproduction and survival. The research approach of the Comprehensive Sturgeon Research Program integrates opportunistic field studies, field-based experiments, and controlled laboratory studies. The field study plan is designed to explore the role of flow regime and associated environmental cues using two complementary approaches. An upstream-downstream approach compares sturgeon reproductive behavior between an upstream section of the Lower Missouri River with highly altered flow regime to a downstream section that maintains much of its pre-regulation flow variability. The upstream section also has the potential for an experimental approach to compare reproductive behavior in years with pulsed flow modifications ('spring rises') to years without. The reproductive cycle of the female sturgeon requires several years to progress through gonadal development, oocyte maturation, and spawning. Converging lines of evidence support the hypothesis that maturation and readiness to spawn in female sturgeon is cued many months before spawning. Information on reproductive readiness of shovelnose sturgeon indicates that sturgeon at different locations along the Lower Missouri River between St. Louis and Gavins Point Dam are all responding to the same early cue. Although not a perfect surrogate, the more abundant shovelnose sturgeon is morphologically, physiologically, and genetically similar to pallid sturgeon, and thereby provides a useful comparative model for the rarer species. Day length is the likely candidate to define a temporal spawning window. Within the spawning window, one or more additional, short-term, and specific cues may serve to signal ovulation and release of gametes. Of three potential spawning cues - water temperature, water discharge, and day of year - water temperature is the most likely proximate cue because of the fundamental physiological role temperature plays in sturgeon embryo development and survival, and the sensitivity of many fish hormones to temperature change. It also is possible that neither temperature nor discharge is cueing spawning; instead, reproductive behavior may result from the biological clock advancing an individual fish's readiness to spawn day after day through the spawning period until the right moment, independent of local environmental conditions. Separation of the individual effects of discharge events, water temperature, and other possible factors, such as proximity to male

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Ecological Requirements for Pallid Sturgeon Reproduction and Recruitment in the Lower Missouri River: A Research Synthesis 2005-08
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Scientific Investigations Report
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U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
Columbia Environmental Research Center
viii, 60 p.
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