Estimation of gonad volume, fecundity, and reproductive stage of shovelnose sturgeon using sonography and endoscopy with application to the endangered pallid sturgeon


Author's address:  J. L. Bryan, U.S. Geological Survey, Columbia Environmental Research Center, 4200 New Haven Road, Columbia, MO 65201, USA.


Most species of sturgeon are declining in the Mississippi River Basin of North America including pallid (Scaphirhynchus albus F. and R.) and shovelnose sturgeons (S. platorynchus R.). Understanding the reproductive cycle of sturgeon in the Mississippi River Basin is important in evaluating the status and viability of sturgeon populations. We used non-invasive, non-lethal methods for examining internal reproductive organs of shovelnose and pallid sturgeon. We used an ultrasound to measure egg diameter, fecundity, and gonad volume; endoscope was used to visually examine the gonad. We found the ultrasound to accurately measure the gonad volume, but it underestimated egg diameter by 52%. After correcting for the measurement error, the ultrasound accurately measured the gonad volume but it was higher than the true gonad volume for stages I and II. The ultrasound underestimated the fecundity of shovelnose sturgeon by 5%. The ultrasound fecundity was lower than the true fecundity for stage III and during August. Using the endoscope, we viewed seven different egg color categories. Using a model selection procedure, the presence of four egg categories correctly predicted the reproductive stage ± one reproductive stage of shovelnose sturgeon 95% of the time. For pallid sturgeon, the ultrasound overestimated the density of eggs by 49% and the endoscope was able to view eggs in 50% of the pallid sturgeon. Individually, the ultrasound and endoscope can be used to assess certain reproductive characteristics in sturgeon. The use of both methods at the same time can be complementary depending on the parameter measured. These methods can be used to track gonad characteristics, including measuring Gonadosomatic Index in individuals and/or populations through time, which can be very useful when associating gonad characteristics with environmental spawning triggers or with repeated examinations of individual fish throughout the reproductive cycle.