Date of this Version
Conserv Physiol 2: Volume 2, 2014
Little is known of the swimming capacities of larval sturgeons, despite global population declines in many species due in part to fragmentation of their spawning and rearing habitats by man-made water-diversion structures. Larval green (Acipenser medirostris) and white sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) inhabit the highly altered Sacramento–San Joaquin watershed, making them logical species to examine vulnerability to entrainment by altered water flows. The risk of larval sturgeon entrainment is influenced by the ontogeny of swimming capacity and dispersal timing and their interactions with water-diversion structure operations. Therefore, the aim of this study was to describe and compare the ontogeny and allometry of larval green and white sturgeon swimming capacities until completion of metamorphosis into juveniles. Despite the faster growth rates and eventual larger size of larval white sturgeon, green sturgeon critical swimming velocities remained consistently, though modestly, greater than those of white sturgeon throughout the larval life stage. Although behavioural interactions with water-diversion structures are also important considerations, regarding swimming capacity, Sacramento–San Joaquin sturgeons are most vulnerable to entrainment in February–May, when white sturgeon early larvae are in the middle Sacramento River, and April–May, when green sturgeon early larvae are in the upper river. Green sturgeon migrating downstream to the estuary and bays in October–November are also susceptible to entrainment due to their movements combined with seasonal declines in their swimming capacity. An additional inter-species comparison of the allometric relationship between critical swimming velocities and total length with several sturgeon species found throughout the world suggests a similar ontogeny of swimming capacity with growth. Therefore, although dispersal and behaviour differ among river systems and sturgeon species, similar recommendations are applicable for managers seeking to balance water demands with restoration and conservation of sturgeons worldwide.