Evaluation of Pallid Sturgeon Science on the Missouri River

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A new fact sheet documenting the development of the Missouri River Pallid Sturgeon Effects Analysis (EA) is now available from the U.S. Geological Survey. The EA is an effort to assess how Missouri River management has affected—and may affect—the endangered pallid sturgeon population.

The EA was prepared in collaboration with the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Missouri River Recovery Program to provide a detailed evaluation of the science available on the endangered pallid sturgeon in the Missouri River, and prospects for management actions that may avoid future jeopardy to the species. 

The fact sheet describes four foundational reports developed by the EA to document information availability, conceptual ecological models, hypothesis prioritization and application of the best-available quantitative models linking management actions to population responses. The USGS fact sheet is available online.  

One key finding of the EA has been the extent of uncertainties in pallid sturgeon biology. Information gaps limit the ability to quantify how management actions will promote changes to pallid sturgeon populations. 

“It hasn’t been all that surprising that we found pervasive and fundamental uncertainties in pallid sturgeon biology and relations to river management,” said Dr. Robert Jacobson, the EA lead and a USGS scientist. “Our hope has been that documenting the uncertainties and formulating a model and data assimilation framework will provide the roadmap for improved decision-relevant science in the future.”

The considerable uncertainties documented in the pallid sturgeon EA report point to an adaptive-management approach for this rare fish species and its ecosystem. Under adaptive management, hypotheses guide actions that are designed as learning experiments, and new science information is used to improve management decisions.  

Photo of USGS biologist preparing to release a reproductive female pallid sturgeon.
USGS Biologist Sabrina Davenport prepares to release a reproductive female pallid sturgeon.Public domain

“The challenge has been to understand critical population processes of a very rare fish that lives in a deep, fast and muddy river where direct observation is nearly impossible,” said Jacobson.

The EA process started in 2013 and has been adopted by the USACE to support a new environmental impact statement process for the Missouri River Recovery Program. The pallid sturgeon EA has been a multi-institution process involving sturgeon and river experts from the USGS, USACE, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, universities and state and federal agencies.

The EA reports are available online:

Missouri River Scaphirhynchus albus (Pallid Sturgeon) Effects Analysis—Integrative Report 2016

Development of working hypotheses linking management of the Missouri River to population dynamics of Scaphirhynchus albus (pallid sturgeon)

Science information to support Missouri River Scaphirhychus albus (pallid sturgeon) effects analysis

Development of conceptual ecological models linking management of the Missouri River to pallid sturgeon population dynamics

 

Learn more about USGS work on the pallid sturgeon by visiting the Comprehensive Sturgeon Research Project blog.