Estimating Differences in Growth and Metabolism in Two Spatially Segregated Groups of Columbia River White Sturgeon Using a Field-Based Bioenergetics Model

Brett T. van Poorten*, Steven O. McAdam
Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia, 2202 Main Mall, Vancouver, B.C., Canada, V6T 1Z4
British Columbia Ministry of Environment, 2202 Main Mall, Vancouver, B.C., Canada, V6T 1Z4

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© 2010 van Poorten and McAdam

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: ( This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia, 2202 Main Mall, Vancouver, B.C., Canada, V6T 1Z4, Canada; Tel: 604-822-0046; Fax: 604-822-8934; E-mail:


Recovery of white sturgeon in the Upper Columbia River continues to be limited by our understanding of the species' biology, including factors which influence growth, habitat selection and their interaction. Sampling challenges in large rivers coupled with limitations to invasive research on endangered species also create specific challenges to the detailed understanding of growth and metabolism. A new bioenergetics modelling approach which estimates basic parameters from field data, specifically length-increment and length-at-age data was therefore applied in order to provide novel insights into white sturgeon growth and metabolism. A large existing capture database was used to examine two groups of white sturgeon which preferentially occupy habitats in the transboundary section of the Upper Columbia River downstream of Keenleyside Dam (HLK group) or further downstream near Waneta (WAN group). Successful application of the model showed differences in both growth and metabolism. Mean annual food intake appears similar for the two groups; however growth was more rapid for the HLK group. This resulted from a higher metabolic rate for the WAN group coupled with contrasts in seasonal food intake. Growth differences between groups lead to slower growth and later maturity for the WAN group. In aggregate, results suggest that the WAN group may be food limited and ultimately may have lower lifetime fecundity due its apparently later maturity and the possibility that lower energy intake might increase the interspawning interval. Finally, the functional structure of the model leads to concerns that both groups are approaching the thermal maxima for consumption, which may lead to reductions in body growth if increases in water temperature continue. Overall, application of this bioenergetics model identified new avenues for study which should assist conservation efforts in this species.

Keywords: Bioenergetics, metabolism, white sturgeon, group-level difference.