Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 93, Issue 3, pp 377–392 | Cite as

An experimental test and models of drift and dispersal processes of pallid sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus albus) free embryos in the Missouri River

  • Patrick J. Braaten
  • David B. Fuller
  • Ryan D. Lott
  • Michael P. Ruggles
  • Tyrel F. Brandt
  • Robert G. Legare
  • Robert J. Holm


Free embryos of wild pallid sturgeon Scaphirhynchus albus were released in the Missouri River and captured at downstream sites through a 180-km reach of the river to examine ontogenetic drift and dispersal processes. Free embryos drifted primarily in the fastest portion of the river channel, and initial drift velocities for all age groups (mean = 0.66–0.70 m s−1) were only slightly slower than mean water column velocity (0.72 m s−1). During the multi-day long-distance drift period, drift velocities of all age groups declined an average of 9.7% day−1. Younger free embryos remained in the drift upon termination of the study; whereas, older age groups transitioned from drifting to settling during the study. Models based on growth of free embryos, drift behavior, size-related variations in drift rates, and channel hydraulic characteristics were developed to estimate cumulative distance drifted during ontogenetic development through a range of simulated water temperatures and velocity conditions. Those models indicated that the average free embryo would be expected to drift several hundred km during ontogenetic development. Empirical data and model results highlight the long-duration, long-distance drift and dispersal processes for pallid sturgeon early life stages. In addition, results provide a likely mechanism for lack of pallid sturgeon recruitment in fragmented river reaches where dams and reservoirs reduce the length of free-flowing river available for pallid sturgeon free embryos during ontogenetic development.


Acipenseridae Dispersal Missouri River Ontogenetic development Pallid sturgeon River fragmentation 



This project was funded in partnership with the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, Missouri River Recovery Integrated Science Program, as part of the Fort Peck Flow Modification Biological Data Collection Plan. Thanks are extended to personnel from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (C. Dix, B. Dube, D. Garfield, T. Haddix, L. Holte, C. Hoyer, J. Hunziker, R. Kastet, M. Kottke, B. Lipscomb, S. Morehouse, C. Sampson, B. Tribby) and U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (E. Nelson, Z. Sandness, R. Wilson) who assisted in field or hatchery operations. K. Chojnaki (U. S. Geological Survey, Columbia Environmental Research Center) designed the map. Discussions with R. Jacobson (U. S. Geological Survey, Columbia Environmental Research Center) and comments from R. Klumb, T. Welker, P. Rust, and three anonymous reviewers contributed to an improved version of the manuscript. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U. S. Government.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. (outside the USA) 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patrick J. Braaten
    • 1
  • David B. Fuller
    • 2
  • Ryan D. Lott
    • 2
  • Michael P. Ruggles
    • 2
  • Tyrel F. Brandt
    • 3
  • Robert G. Legare
    • 3
  • Robert J. Holm
    • 4
  1. 1.U. S. Geological SurveyColumbia Environmental Research Center, Fort Peck Project OfficeFort PeckUSA
  2. 2.Montana Fish, Wildlife and ParksFort PeckUSA
  3. 3.U. S. Geological Survey, Fort Peck Field OfficeFort PeckUSA
  4. 4.U. S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceGarrison Dam National Fish HatcheryRiverdaleUSA

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