Date of Award

Fall 12-2016

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Coastal Sciences, Gulf Coast Research Laboratory

Committee Chair

Dr. Mark S. Peterson

Committee Chair Department

Coastal Sciences, Gulf Coast Research Laboratory

Committee Member 2

Dr. William T. Slack

Committee Member 3

Dr. Frank J. Hernandez

Committee Member 3 Department

Coastal Sciences, Gulf Coast Research Laboratory

Abstract

Critical spawning and feeding habitat was designated for federally threatened, anadromous Gulf Sturgeon (GS) to aid in population recovery. This study examined GS occupancy, habitat use, and movement through critical habitat monitored by the Ship Island (SI) acoustic array during overwintering periods from 2011 to 2015 prior to MsCIP SI restoration. An occupancy index analyzed patterns of spatial and temporal habitat use of both western and eastern population segments (WPS and EPS, respectively) of GS on the SI array. The ends of SI along with the passes and cuts of the island, especially Dog Keys Pass (DKP), were occupied by GS. Further, the index was determined to be strong and robust as it was able to adapt as the array expanded. There was no significant difference in mean active days of population segments of GS on the SI array, and both population segments were concentrated within DKP and nearshore Western Horn Island. Travel rate (km d-1) to the SI array from natal drainages was observed, and population segments differed significantly with EPS individuals traveling at a higher rate, on average, compared to WPS individuals; Blackwater fish had a significantly higher travel rate compared to Pascagoula fish. Clearly, both population segments use areas associated with the SI array as critical habitat during the overwintering period regardless of the distance traveled from natal rivers. Gulf Sturgeon use multiple marine and freshwater habitats throughout their lifetime; critical habitat should be protected and expanded to possibly assist in population recovery for this species.

ORCID ID

orcid.org/0000-0002-0173-320

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