Pallid Sturgeon Early Life

Science Center Objects

CERC biologists focus on improving understanding of biomechanics of eggs, free embryos, and larvae through direct observation and measurement. An improved understanding of biomechanics – how biotic conditions and processes interact with physical processes to result in changes in survival – is necessary to create quantitative links between management actions and population-level results.

Pallid sturgeon eggs become adhesive minutes after fertilization

Pallid sturgeon eggs become adhesive minutes after fertilization.  Scientists are working to understand the factors that influence the adhesiveness of sturgeon eggs.

(Public domain.)


The Issue: The challenges facing successful pallid sturgeon reproduction in the wild are potentially numerous and not well understood. Decades of segmentation, channelization, and, consequently, changes in sedimentation have changed the Missouri River ecosystem in ways that have rendered the pallid sturgeon unable to reproduce in their long-established habitats. The population is now dependent on a national hatchery network for continued propagation until the problems are understood well enough for management agencies to facilitate natural reproduction.


Addressing the Issue: As there have been very rare documented spawning events but no known recruitment, research focuses on each of the pallid sturgeon early-life stages. Pallid sturgeon egg deposition, adhesion, survival, and predation are all being studied in lab settings. In the later, post-hatch stages, many challenges remain the same, but dispersal and drift behaviors become an important aspect of larvae/free embryo survival. On-site mesocosm studies alongside real world marking and tracking studies continue to give insight to the behaviors, interactions, and survivability in current conditions.

Pallid sturgeon free embryo at approximately 10 days post-hatch

Pallid sturgeon free embryo at approximately 10 days post-hatch, approximately 19-20 mm (about 0.77 of an inch) in length.

(Public domain.)


Next Steps/Future Steps/Results: Due to the river conditions in which pallid sturgeon live, scientific advancements are often key in addressing existing questions. Current plans involve the design and construction of next generation flumes and instrumentation to manipulate and measure flow and substrate dynamics at fish-appropriate scales. Advanced digital videography and computerized particle tracking, laser Doppler technology, and high-frequency hydroacoustics sensing are all being deployed to better understand particle dispersion and the water conditions in sturgeon habitats. Mesocosm and lab studies will continue to examine physical and biological interactions between substrate, turbidity and predation.


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