Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries

, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 219–237 | Cite as

Population viability analysis of the Danube sturgeon populations in a Vortex simulation model

  • I. JarićEmail author
  • T. Ebenhard
  • M. Lenhardt
Research Paper


Populations of six sturgeon species in the Danube River (beluga, Russian sturgeon, stellate sturgeon, sterlet, ship sturgeon and Atlantic sturgeon) have experienced severe decline during the last several decades, mostly due to the unsustainable fishery, river fragmentation and water pollution. Present lack of knowledge on basic sturgeon demography, life history and relative effects of different negative factors is further hindering implementation of efficient policy and management measures. In the present study, population viability analysis in a Vortex simulation model has been conducted in order to assess the state of the six Danube sturgeon species, their future risk of extinction and to determine the most suitable conservation and management measures. Population viability analysis has revealed a large sensitivity of the Danube sturgeon populations to changes in the natural mortality, fecundity, age at maturity and spawning frequency. It was also confirmed that the sturgeons are highly susceptible to even moderate levels of commercial fishery, and that their recovery is a multi-decadal affair. Stocking with adult individuals was shown to produce considerably greater effect on population persistence than stocking with juveniles, but the latter approach is probably still preferable since it avoids many inherent problems of aquaculture cultivation. This study represents the first population viability analysis of the Danube sturgeons.


Acipenser Huso PVA Extinction risk Life history Modelling 



This study represents a part of activities within the Project No. 143045, funded by Ministry of Science of Republic Serbia, as well as within the Master Programme in Management of Biological Diversity, organized by the Swedish Biodiversity Centre (CBM) and funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). The authors would like to thank Dr Neculai Patriche, Dr Jorga Valentin, Dr Radu Suciu, Dr Ion Navodaru, Dr Milen Vassilev, Dr Tania Hubenova, Dr Ivan Dobrovolov, Dr Angel Tsekov and Dr Patrick Williot for their help in resolving different questions of sturgeon life history, as well as two anonymous reviewers for providing helpful comments and suggestions.

Supplementary material

11160_2009_9151_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (387 kb)
(PDF 387 kb)


  1. Akçakaya HR (2000) Population viability analyses with demographically and spatially structured models. Ecol Bull 48:23–38Google Scholar
  2. Akçakaya HR, Sjögren-Gulve P (2000) Population viability analyses in conservation planning: an overview. Ecol Bull 49:9–21Google Scholar
  3. Bacalbasa-Dobrovici N, Patriche N (1999) Environmental studies and recovery actions for sturgeons in the Lower Danube River system. J Appl Ichthyol 15:114–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bajer PG, Wildhaber ML (2007) Population viability analysis of Lower Missouri River shovelnose sturgeon with initial application to the pallid sturgeon. J Appl Ichthyol 23:457–464CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Balnath C, Gessner J, Rosenthal H (2008) Sturgeon conservation and aquaculture. XXXII scientific conference on fisheries and aquaculture. In: Proceedings of the international workshop on sturgeon conservation and breeding, Szarvas, Hungary, 15–16 May 2008. Available via Accessed 15 Apr 2009
  6. Beamesderfer RCP, Rein TA, Nigro AA (1995) Differences in the dynamics and potential production of impounded and unimpounded white sturgeon populations in the Lower Columbia River. Trans Am Fish Soc 124:857–872CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Beamesderfer RCP, Simpson ML, Kopp GJ (2007) Use of life history information in a population model for Sacramento green sturgeon. Environ Biol Fish 79:315–337CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Beissinger SR (2002) Population viability analysis: past, present, future. In: Beissinger R, McCullough DR (eds) Population viability analysis. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 5–17Google Scholar
  9. Beissinger SR, Westphal MI (1998) On the use of demographic models of population viability in endangered species management. J Wildl Manage 62(3):821–841CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bemis WE, Findeis EK, Grande L (1997) An overview of Acipenseriformes. Environ Biol Fish 48:25–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Birstein VJ, Bemis WE, Waldman JR (1997) The threatened status of acipenseriform species: a summary. Environ Biol Fish 48:427–435CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Boreman J (1997) Sensitivity of North American sturgeons and paddlefish to fishing mortality. Environ Biol Fish 48:399–405CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Botsford LW, Castilla JC, Peterson CH (1997) The management of fisheries and marine ecosystems. Science 277:509–515CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Boyce MS (1992) Population viability analysis. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 23:481–506CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Bruch RM (2008) Modelling the population dynamics and sustainability of lake sturgeon in the Winnebago system, Wisconsin. Dissertation, University of Wisconsin-MilwaukeeGoogle Scholar
  16. Chebanov M, Billard R (2001) The culture of sturgeons in Russia: production of juveniles for stocking and meat for human consumption. Aquat Living Resour 14:375–381CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Colombo RE, Garvey JE, Jackson ND, Brooks R, Herzog DP, Hrabik RA, Spier TW (2007) Harvest of Mississippi River sturgeon drives abundance and reproductive success: a harbinger of collapse? J Appl Ichthyol 23:444–451CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Ebenhard T (2000) Population viability analyses in endangered species management: the wolf, otter and peregrine falcon in Sweden. Ecol Bull 48:143–163Google Scholar
  19. Hanski I (2002) Metapopulation of animals in highly fragmented landscapes and population viability analysis. In: Beissinger R, McCullough DR (eds) Population viability analysis. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 86–108Google Scholar
  20. Hedrick PW (2002) Application of molecular genetics to conservation: new issues and examples. In: Beissinger R, McCullough DR (eds) Population viability analysis. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 367–387Google Scholar
  21. Heppell SS (2007) Elasticity analysis of green sturgeon life history. Environ Biol Fish 79:357–368CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. IUCN (2008) 2008 IUCN Red List of threatened species. International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Available via Accessed 9 Apr 2009
  23. Jager HI (2001) Individual variation in life history characteristics can influence extinction risk. Ecol Model 144:61–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Jager HI (2005) Genetic and demographic implications of aquaculture in white sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) conservation. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 62:1733–1745CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Jager HI (2006a) Chutes and ladders and other games we play with rivers. I. Simulated effects of upstream passage on white sturgeon. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 63:165–175CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Jager HI (2006b) Chutes and ladders and other games we play with rivers. II. Simulated effects of translocation on white sturgeon. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 63:176–185CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Jager HI, Lepla K, Chandler J, Bates P, Van Winkle W (2000) Population viability analysis of white sturgeon and other riverine fishes. Environ Sci Policy 3:S483–S489CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Jager HI, Chandler JA, Lepla KB, Van Winkle W (2001) A theoretical study of river fragmentation by dams and its effects on white sturgeon populations. Environ Biol Fish 60:347–361CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Jarić I, Lenhardt M, Cvijanović G, Ebenhard T (2009a) Acipenser sturio and Acipenser nudiventris in the Danube—extant or extinct? J Appl Ichthyol 25:137–141CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Jarić I, Lenhardt M, Cvijanović G, Ebenhard T (2009b) Population viability analysis and potential of its application to Danube sturgeons. Arch Biol Sci 61(1):123–128CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kennedy AJ, Sutton TM (2007) Effects of harvest and length limits on shovelnose sturgeon in the upper Wabash River, Indiana. J Appl Ichthyol 23:465–475CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kuparinen A, O’Hara RB, Merilä J (2008) The role of growth history in determining age and size at maturation in exploited fish populations. Fish Fish 9:201–207Google Scholar
  33. Lacy RC (1993) VORTEX: a computer simulation model for population viability analysis. Wildl Res 20:45–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lacy RC (2000) Structure of the VORTEX simulation model for population viability analysis. Ecol Bull 48:191–203Google Scholar
  35. Lagutov V, Lagutov V (2008) The Ural River sturgeons: population dynamics, catch, reasons for decline and restoration strategies. In: Lagutov V (ed) Rescue of sturgeon species in the Ural River Basin. Springer, Berlin, pp 193–276CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Lenhardt M, Jarić I, Bojović D, Cvijanović G, Gačić Z (2006a) Past and current status of sturgeon in the Serbian part of the Danube River. In: Proceedings 36th international conference of IAD. Austrian Committee Danube Research/IAD, Vienna, pp 148–151Google Scholar
  37. Lenhardt M, Jaric I, Kalauzi A, Cvijanovic G (2006b) Assessment of extinction risk and reasons for decline in sturgeon. Biodivers Conserv 15:1967–1976CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Ludwig A (2006) A sturgeon view on conservation genetics. Eur J Wildl Res 52:3–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Ludwig D, Walters CJ (2002) Fitting population viability analysis into adaptive management. In: Beissinger R, McCullough DR (eds) Population viability analysis. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 511–520Google Scholar
  40. Miller PS, Lacy RS (2005) VORTEX: a stochastic simulation of the extinction process. Version 9.50 user’s manual. Conservation Breeding Specialist Group (SSC/IUCN), Apple ValleyGoogle Scholar
  41. Mills LS, Lindberg MS (2002) Sensitivity analysis to evaluate the consequences of conservation actions. In: Beissinger R, McCullough DR (eds) Population viability analysis. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 338–366Google Scholar
  42. Navodaru I, Staras M, Banks R (1999) Management of the sturgeon stocks of the Lower Danube River system. In: Stiuca R, Nuchersu I (eds) The Delta’s: state-of-the-art protection and management. Conference proceedings, Tulcea, Romania, pp 229–237Google Scholar
  43. Nikcevic M, Lenhardt M, Cakic P, Mickovic B, Kolarevic J, Jaric I (2004) Historical review and new initiatives for sturgeon fisheries, aquaculture and caviar production in Serbia and Montenegro. In: Oddmund O (ed) Releasing development potentials at the Eastern Adriatic. Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Trondheim, Norway. Available via Accessed 15 Apr 2009
  44. Patriche N, Pecheanu C, Billard R (1999) Sturgeon fisheries, caviar production in Romania and possible measures of rehabilitation in the Lower Danube. Riv Ital Acquacolt 34:83–91Google Scholar
  45. Pianka ER (1970) On r- and K-selection. Am Nat 104(940):592–597CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Pine WE III, Allen MS, Dreitz VJ (2001) Population viability of the Gulf of Mexico sturgeon: inferences from capture–recapture and age-structured models. Trans Am Fish Soc 130:1164–1174CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Quist MC, Guy CS, Pegg MA, Braaten PJ, Pierce CL, Travnichek VH (2002) Potential influence of harvest on shovelnose sturgeon populations in the Missouri River system. N Am J Fish Manage 22:537–549CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Reed JM, Mills LS, Dunning JB Jr, Menges ES, McKelvey KS, Frye R, Beissinger SR, Anstett M-C, Miller P (2002) Emerging issues in population viability analysis. Conserv Biol 16(1):7–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Reinartz R (2002) Sturgeons in the Danube River. Biology, status, conservation. Literature study. International Association for Danube Research (IAD), Bezirk Oberpfalz, Landesfischereiverband Bayern, e.VGoogle Scholar
  50. Reisenbichler RR, Rubin SP (1999) Genetic changes from artificial propagation of Pacific salmon affect the productivity and viability of supplemented populations. ICES J Mar Sci 56:459–466CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Secor DH, Niklitschek EJ (2002) Sensitivity if sturgeons to environmental hypoxia: a review of physiological and ecological evidence. In: Thurston RV (ed) Fish physiology, toxicology and water quality. Symposium proceedings, La Paz, Mexico, EPA/600/R-02/097, pp 61–78Google Scholar
  52. Shahifar R (2006) Economic comparison between sturgeon fishery yield and releasing efforts of fingerlings in the Southern Caspian Sea (1972–2003). J Appl Ichthyol 22(Suppl 1):119–124CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Sulak KJ, Randall M (2002) Understanding sturgeon life history: enigmas, myths, and insights from scientific studies. J Appl Ichthyol 18:519–528CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Vassilev M (2006) Lower Danube—the last refuge for surviving of sturgeon fishes in the Black Sea Region. In: Hubert P (ed) Water observation and information system for decision support. Conference proceedings, Balwois, Ohrid, Macedonia. Available via Accessed 15 Apr 2009
  55. Williot P, Arlati G, Chebanov M, Gulyas T, Kasimov R, Kirschbaum F, Patriche N, Pavlovskaya LP, Poliakova L, Pourkazemi M, Kim Y, Zhuang P, Zholdasova IM (2002) Status and management of Eurasian sturgeon: an overview. Int Rev Hydrobiol 87(5–6):483–506CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Williot P, Brun R, Rouault T, Pelard M, Mercier D, Ludwig A (2005) Artificial spawning in cultured sterlet sturgeon, Acipenser ruthenus L., with special emphasis on hermaphrodites. Aquaculture 246:263–273CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Multidisciplinary ResearchBelgradeSerbia
  2. 2.Swedish Biodiversity Centre (CBM)Swedish University of Agricultural SciencesUppsalaSweden
  3. 3.Institute for Biological ResearchBelgradeSerbia

Personalised recommendations