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Over-wintering physiology of age-0 lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) and its implications for conservation stocking programs


Lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) occupy some of the most northerly distributions of any sturgeon species and experience extended overwintering periods when resources may be limited. Conservation stocking is currently used as a management tool to enhance lake sturgeon populations that are at risk or endangered. One of the most limiting components of the conservation effort is our understanding of energy requirements that allow age-0 lake sturgeon to survive their first winter. In this study, age-0 fish (mean mass 5.6 g ± 0.5 S.E.; mean total length 12.7 cm ± 0.4 S.E.) were held in groups of 12 individuals (10 total groups) and starved for a period of four weeks while being held at 1 ± 1 °C. This setting was intended to simulate winter conditions that occur in the Winnipeg River, MB, Canada. Post-winter fish condition and physiology were compared to pre-winter fish using survival, energy density, metabolic rate, glucose, triglyceride, protein, and cortisol production as metrics. While mortality was high (42%) during the experiment, results indicated that fish with total water content below 90% and energy density above 2000 J/g were more likely to survive. Whole body triglyceride, plasma triglyceride, plasma glucose levels, and standard metabolic rates were also found to significantly decline over time while whole body cortisol concentration increased. Understanding these thresholds will help in future refinements of rearing conditions, which look to improve the survival of age-0 lake sturgeon released into the wild pre-winter.

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We would like to thank Luke Belding, Forrest Bjornson, and Catherine Brandt for taking care of the fish as well as Dr. Jason Treberg for technical advice on the assays. We would also like to thank Dr. Eva Enders for use of the bomb calorimeter. Lastly, we would like to acknowledge Terry Smith and Darcy Childs for helping in the design of the experimental setup. All animals used in this study were reared and sampled according to animal use and care guidelines established by the animal care committee at the University of Manitoba (Protocol #F15-007). Research was supported by NSERC/Manitoba Hydro Industrial Research Chair awarded to W.G.A.

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Correspondence to David Deslauriers.

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Deslauriers, D., Yoon, G.R., Earhart, M.L. et al. Over-wintering physiology of age-0 lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) and its implications for conservation stocking programs. Environ Biol Fish 101, 623–637 (2018).

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  • Sturgeon
  • Overwintering
  • Physiology
  • Conservation
  • Age-0
  • Survival