Columbia River Basin Sturgeon Habitat Modeling

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A study was conducted to identify habitat characteristics associated with age 0 White Sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus Richardson, 1863) recruitment in three reaches of the Columbia River Basin: Skamania reach (consistent recruitment), John Day reach (intermittent/inconsistent recruitment), and Kootenai reach (no recruitment).

Measuring sturgeon length

Researcher measuring sturgeon length. Bottom trawl for young-of-year (YOY) indexing. Columbia River. Photo: USGS - Western Fisheries Research Center (Public domain.)

Our modeling approach involved numerous steps:

  1. Information about substrate, embeddedness, and hydrodynamics in each reach was collected.
  2. A set of spatially explicit predictor variables was developed.
  3. We built two habitat (probability) models with Skamania reach training data where White Sturgeon recruitment was consistent.
  4. Spawning maps of each reach by populating the habitat models with in-reach physical metrics (substrate, embeddedness, and hydrodynamics) were created.
  5. We examined model accuracy by overlaying spawning locations in Skamania and Kootenai reaches with habitat predictions obtained from probability models.
  6. We simulated how predicted habitat changed in each reach after manipulating physical conditions to more closely match Skamania reach.

    odel verification confirmed White Sturgeon generally spawned in locations with higher model probabilities in Skamania and Kootenai reaches, indicating the utility of extrapolating the models. Model simulations revealed significant gains in White Sturgeon habitat in all reaches when spring flow increased, gravel/cobble composition increased, or embeddedness decreased. The habitat models appear well suited to assist managers when identifying reach-specific factors limiting White Sturgeon recruitment in the Columbia River Basin or throughout its range.

    Figure 1. A map of the project area

    Figure 1. A map of the project area and the three study reaches: Skamania (SK), John Day (JD), and Kootenai (KO). Credit: James Hatten, USGS. (Public domain.)


    This work would not have been possible without the support of many individuals and institutions. Sue Ireland, Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, and Bob Hallock, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, were instrumental in securing funding for this work from the Bonneville Power Administration. We also thank the many individuals within the USGS who provided support and technical expertise. Two individuals in particular, Pete Kofoot and Joe Warren, Western Fisheries Research Center, Columbia River Research Laboratory, assisted with the collection of bathymetric data, boat operation, underwater videography for substrate mapping, and acoustic Doppler current profiles. 


    Weighing sturgeon

    Researcher weighing sturgeon.  Columbia River, bottom trawl for young-of-year (YOY) indexing. Photo: USGS - Western Fisheries Research Center (Public domain.)

    Implanting transmitter, white sturgeon

    Researchers surgically implanting transmitter, white sturgeon, for passage study. Columbia River near The Dalles Dam. Photo: USGS - Western Fisheries Research Center (Public domain.)