In some Snake and Columbia River reservoirs, adult white sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) are common but few juvenile fish are found, indicating a lack of spawning success or poor survival of larvae. In contrast, recruitment of young-of-the-year white sturgeon to juvenile and adult stages is successful in the unimpounded Columbia River downstream of Bonneville Dam. The availability and size of preferred prey during the period when white sturgeon larvae begin exogenous feeding could be an important determinant of year-class strength. To explore this issue, we examined the diet composition of 352 larval and young-of-the year white sturgeon collected from 1989 through 1991 in the lower Columbia River. Samples were collected downstream from Bonneville Dam and upstream from the dam in Bonneville and The Dalles Reservoirs. Fish that ranged in size from 15 to 290 mm in total length fed primarily on gammarid amphipods (Corophium spp.) during all months. This diet item became increasingly important to all sizes of white sturgeon examined as they grew. The length of Corophium spp. eaten by larval and young-of-the-year white sturgeon increased with increasing fish length (r2 = 45.6%, P < 0.0001). Copepods (Cyclopoida), Ceratopogonidae larvae, and Diptera pupae and larvae (primarily chironomids) were also consumed, especially at the onset of exogenous feeding. A small percentage of white sturgeon were found with empty stomachs during June (1.6% downstream from Bonneville Dam) and July (4.5% downstream and 2.6% in the reservoirs). Diets of larval and young-of-the year white sturgeon from both impounded and free-flowing sections of the Columbia River were similar and we found no evidence of larval starvation in the areas investigated, areas currently supporting healthy white sturgeon populations.
Additional publication details
Diet of first-feeding larval and young-of-the-year white sturgeon in the lower Columbia River