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ESR prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01325

Occupancy, movement, and behaviour of namew (lake sturgeon, Acipenser fulvescens) in an intact river in Canada

Claire E. Farrell*, Jennifer Simard, Stan Louttit, F. Meg Southee, Liset Cruz-Font, Daniel P. Struthers, Jacob L. Seguin, Constance M. O’Connor

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Most sturgeon populations are imperilled and living in fragmented rivers. Here, we studied namew (lake sturgeon, Acipenser fulvescens), fish important to Ililiwak (Moose Cree Peoples), in the North French River: a free-flowing, intact river in Kit Aski Nahnuun (the Moose Cree Homeland) in northern Ontario, Canada. This study was co-created alongside members of Moose Cree First Nation, and used acoustic telemetry to passively track 20 tagged namew over 6 yr (2016–2022). Namew occupied the entire monitored river reach: about 45 km. Namew used 2 overwintering areas and occupied more overall river sections during spring and summer (out of 6 total seasons often used by Ililiwak). We did not detect namew moving upstream nor downstream during freeze-up and winter. Generally, namew showed the greatest acceleration and travelled the longest distances during spring and summer and were shallower during summer in lower water levels and deepest during freeze-up. We found an interaction between season and diurnal period, where namew were shallower and had higher acceleration at dawn and night relative to morning and afternoon in most seasons; dusk behaviour was variable among seasons. However, this pattern was absent in spring, when namew showed no diurnal pattern in acceleration and were shallower in morning and afternoon. Diurnal patterns were less pronounced, but detectable, during ice-affected seasons. This river provides year-round habitat for namew, and our data reveal distinct patterns of namew occupancy, movement, and behaviour in a free-flowing, intact river. Our work is an example of successfully co-creating research that addresses both scientific and community priorities.