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Dietary assessment of age-0 pallid sturgeon and shovelnose sturgeon: implications for surrogacy

Nathan J. C. Gosch*, Todd R. Gemeinhardt, Anthony P. Civiello, Audrey B. Harrison, Joseph L. Bonneau

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Validation is critical when considering potential surrogates for endangered species research. The pallid sturgeon Scaphirhynchus albus is federally endangered in the USA, whereas the congeneric shovelnose sturgeon S. platorynchus is common. Inadequate food availability during early life history is a hypothesized factor limiting recruitment of pallid sturgeon in the lower Missouri River and an established surrogate relationship with shovelnose sturgeon would dramatically expedite research efforts related to potential food limitation. During 2018, 4 exogenously feeding pallid sturgeon larvae were captured concurrently with multiple shovelnose sturgeon, providing a critical opportunity to evaluate diet surrogacy using individuals captured from the same locations. We found that both species primarily consumed ephemeropterans but chironomids were also frequent prey. Over 90% of the pallid sturgeon prey items belonged to taxa also consumed by shovelnose sturgeon. Additionally, we often observed high diet similarity between these congeners. As for total prey weight, pallid sturgeon consumption was similar or higher compared to similarly sized shovelnose sturgeon. Although the sample size was limited, this study supports the hypothesis that larval pallid sturgeon are capable of finding food in the lower Missouri River and exhibiting diet similarity with shovelnose sturgeon. We also provide the first quantification of prey weight for wild-produced larval pallid sturgeon, which consumed relatively large amounts of prey in the wild during the critical transition from endogenous to exogenous feeding.