Juvenile pallid sturgeon Scaphirhynchus albus raised in hatcheries and stocked in the wild are used to augment critically imperiled populations of this federally endangered species in the United States. For pallid sturgeon in recovery priority management area 2 (RPMA 2) of the Missouri River and lower Yellowstone River where natural recruitment has not occurred for decades, restoration programs aim to stock an annual minimum of 9000 juvenile pallid sturgeon for 20 years to re-establish a minimum population of 1700 adults. However, establishment of this target was based on general guidelines for maintaining the genetic integrity of populations rather than pallid sturgeon-specific demographic information because data on the historical population size was lacking. In this study, information from a recent population estimate (158 wild adults in 2004, 95% confidence interval 129-193 adults) and an empirically derived adult mortality rate (5%) was used in a cohort population model to back-estimate the historic abundance of adult pallid sturgeon in RPMA 2. Three back-estimation age models were developed, and assumed that adults alive during 2004 were 30-, 40-, or 50-years old. Based on these age assumptions, population sizes [??95% confidence intervals; (CI)] were back-estimated to 1989, 1979, and 1969 to approximate size of the population when individuals would have been sexually mature (15 years old) and capable of spawning. Back-estimations yielded predictions of 344 adults in 1989 (95% CI 281-420), 577 adults in 1979 (95% CI 471-704), and 968 adults in 1969 (95% CI 790-1182) for the 30-, 40-, and 50-year age models, respectively. Although several assumptions are inherent in the back-estimation models, results suggest the juvenile stocking program for pallid sturgeon will likely re-establish an adult population that equals in the short-term and exceeds in the long-term the predicted population numbers that occurred during past decades in RPMA 2. However, re-establishment of a large population in RPMA 2 that exceeds populations present 40+ years ago should be considered conservatively, as this strategy will increase the number of reproductive adults and thereby increase the likelihood for natural recruitment in this recruitment-limited system. ?? 2009 Blackwell Verlag GmbH.
Additional publication details
An estimate of the historic population size of adult pallid sturgeon in the upper Missouri river basin, Montana and North Dakota