Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: North Carolina
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Nelson, T. C., P. Doukakis, S. T. Lindley, A. D. Schreier, J. E. Hightower, L.R. Hildebrand, R.E. Whitlock, M.A.H. Webb. 2013. Research Tools to Investigate Movements, Migrations, and Life History of Sturgeons (Acipenseridae), with an Emphasis on Marine-Oriented Populations. PLoS ONE 8(8): e71552. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0071552.


Worldwide, sturgeons (Acipenseridae) are among the most endangered fishes due to habitat degradation, overfishing, and inherent life history characteristics (long life span, late maturation, and infrequent spawning). As most sturgeons are anadromous, a considerable portion of their life history occurs in estuarine and marine environments where they may encounter unique threats (e.g., interception in non-target fisheries). Of the 16 marine-oriented species, 12 are designated as Critically Endangered by the IUCN, and these include species commercially harvested. We review important research tools and techniques (tagging, electronic tagging, genetics, microchemistry, observatory), and discuss the comparative utility of these techniques to investigate movements, migrations, and life-history characteristics of sturgeons. Examples are provided regarding what the applications have revealed regarding movement and migration, and how this information can be used for conservation and management. Through studies that include Gulf (Acipenser oxyrinchus desotoi) and Green Sturgeon (A. medirostris), we illustrate what is known about well-studied species and then explore lesser-studied species. A more complete picture of migration is available for North American sturgeon species, while European and Asian species, which are among the most endangered sturgeons, are less understood. We put forth recommendations that encourage the support of stewardship initiatives to build awareness and provide key information for population assessment and monitoring.