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Vulnerability of age-0 pallid sturgeon Scaphirhynchus albus to predation; effects of predator type, turbidity, body size, and prey density

French, William E., Graeb, Brian D. S., Chipps, Steven R., Klumb, Robert A.
Environmental biology of fishes 2014 v.97 no.6 pp. 635-646
Micropterus dolomieu, Pimephales promelas, Pylodictis olivaris, Sander vitreus, Scaphirhynchus, body size, environmental factors, foraging, laboratory experimentation, predation, sturgeon, turbidity
Predation can play an important role in the recruitment dynamics of fishes with intensity regulated by behavioral (i.e., prey selectivity) and/or environmental conditions that may be especially important for rare or endangered fishes. We conducted laboratory experiments to quantify prey selection and capture efficiency by three predators employing distinct foraging strategies: pelagic piscivore (walleye Sander vitreus); benthic piscivore (flathead catfish Pylodictis olivaris) and generalist predator (smallmouth bass Micropterus dolomieu) foraging on two size classes of age-0 pallid sturgeon: large (75–100 mm fork length [FL]) and small (40–50 mm FL). Experiments at high (> 70 nephalometric turbidity units [NTU]) and low (< 5 NTU) turbidity for each predator were conducted with high and low densities of pallid sturgeon and contrasting densities of an alternative prey, fathead minnow Pimephales promelas. Predator behaviors (strikes, captures, and consumed prey) were also quantified for each prey type. Walleye and smallmouth bass negatively selected pallid sturgeon (Chesson’s α = 0.04–0.1) across all treatments, indicating low relative vulnerability to predation. Relative vulnerability to predation by flathead catfish was moderate for small pallid sturgeon (α = 0.44, neutral selection), but low for large pallid sturgeon (α = 0.11, negative selection). Turbidity (up to 100 NTU) did not affect pallid sturgeon vulnerability, even at low density of alternative prey. Age-0 pallid sturgeon were easily captured by all predators, but were rarely consumed, suggesting mechanisms other than predator capture efficiency govern sturgeon predation vulnerability.