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Coastal Sciences, Gulf Coast Research Laboratory


Critical habitat was designated in 2003 for federally threatened anadromous Gulf sturgeon to aid in population recovery. This study examined overwintering Gulf sturgeon spatial use and movement through critical habitat monitored by the Ship Island acoustic array from 2011 to 2015. Previous studies observed western population Gulf sturgeon (Pearl and Pascagoula rivers) overwintering near the ends and within the passes of the barrier islands of the Mississippi Sound, USA. Recent telemetry studies detected eastern population fish (Escambia, Blackwater, Yellow, and Choctawhatchee rivers) overwintering as far west as Mobile Bay, Alabama; however, this study is the first to observe eastern population fish overwintering in western population critical habitat associated with the Ship Island array. Use of overwintering habitat was compared using mean active days detected and rate of travel to and from the array. There was no significant difference in mean active days of population units on the array; however, travel rate to the array from natal drainages was significantly different, with eastern population individuals traveling at a faster rate compared to western population individuals. Post hoc tests indicated that individuals from the Blackwater River had a significantly higher travel rate compared to Pascagoula River individuals. We documented large-scale seascape connectivity among population units of Gulf sturgeon across the northern Gulf of Mexico. Although large-scale seascape connectivity promotes mixing among population units and an exchange of marine nutrients into riverine environments, large-scale migration poses an issue for endangered species such as Gulf sturgeon, as there is greater risk of bycatch mortality and size-specific predation.

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Endangered Species Research



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