, Volume 70, Issue 1, pp 43-55

Ontogenetic Behavior and Migration of Gulf of Mexico Sturgeon, Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi, with Notes on Body Color and Development

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Abstract

We observed Suwannee River Gulf sturgeon, Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi, in the laboratory and found free embryos (first interval after hatching) hid under rocks and did not migrate. Thus, wild embryos should be at the spawning area. Larvae (first interval feeding exogenously) initiated a slow downstream migration, and some juveniles (interval with adult features) continued to migrate slowly for at least 5 months, e.g., a 1-step long larva-juvenile migration. No other population of sturgeon yet studied has this migration style. A conceptual model using this result suggests wild year-0 sturgeon have a variable downstream migration style with short-duration (short distance) migrants and long-duration (long distance) migrants. This migration style should widely disperse wild fish. The model is supported by field studies that found year-0 juveniles are widely dispersed in fresh water to river km 10. Thus, laboratory and field data agree that the entire freshwater reach of river downstream of spawning is nursery habitat. Foraging position of larvae and early juveniles was mostly on the bottom, but fish also spent hours holding position in the water column, an unusual feeding location for sturgeons. The holding position of fish above the bottom suggests benthic forage in the river is scarce and fish have evolved drift feeding. The unusual migration and foraging styles may be adaptations to rear in a river at the southern limit of the species range with poor rearing habitat (low abundance of benthic forage and high summer water temperatures). Suwannee River Gulf sturgeon and Hudson River Atlantic sturgeon, A. o. oxyrinchus, are similar for initiation of migration, early habitat preference, and diel migration. The two subspecies differ greatly for migration and foraging styles, which is likely related to major differences in the quality of rearing habitat. The differences between Atlantic sturgeon populations show the need for geographical studies to represent the behavior of an entire species.