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200713300 - Systemwide distribution of genetic variation within and among populations of the white sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus)

Sponsor: University of California at Davis

Budgets: FY07: $303,737 | FY08: $247,741 | FY09: $245,704

Short description: The project sponsors will analyze microsatellite genetic variation within and among white sturgeon populations throughout their range to assess both the interrelationships of populations to one another and the genetic health of the populations within the Columbia basin.

view full proposal

Final Council recommendation (Nov 2006)

Funding category: Expense

Recommended budgets: FY07: $0 | FY08: $0 | FY09: $0


ISRP final recommendation: Not fundable


The project sponsors propose genotyping white sturgeon from various (all) locations in the Columbia basin at a minimum of 15 microsatellite loci. The purpose of the genotyping is to provide a better understanding of the population structure of white sturgeon. The background section fails to provide a sufficient summary of the current consensus opinion on the metapopulation structure of white sturgeon - both with the Columbia basin and across the species range - to establish the need and basis for the proposed genotyping. The recruitment problem facing white sturgeon is presented, but the management options for addressing it, and how the data from this project would be used to decide among alternative management choices are not presented. The case that this data will be used to decide among the options available for improving the condition of white sturgeon is not compelling. Although the key geneticists on the west coast are on board, nothing in this proposal has emanated from managers. It needs to have compelling endorsement by the managers who might actually need this information. It is not clear how the results of the genetic analyses would (or should) be interpreted. Sponsors assert (page 12) - "Systemwide population genetic data and derived management recommendations generated from this project will provide meaningful guidelines and quantitative benchmarks for the recovery and preservation of native white sturgeon throughout the Columbia basin." This assertion is not supported by a presentation of the types of guidelines and quantitative benchmarks the data could be used to generate. Page 15: "For example, if recruitment failure is confirmed in a particular population, this project can provide valuable information about whether the native remnant population provides sufficient genetic variability to legitimately act as a re-founding stock." Is there a credible empirical basis for this assertion? How would the sponsors decide what the threshold level of genetic variation should be to determine that a remnant stock is unlikely to provide viable re-founding? Page 15: "Data from this proposed study can also be used to estimate minimum number of breeders contributing to a naturally produced year class, the degree of representation of wild alleles into a conservation aquaculture program, or can be used to assign unknown juvenile fish collected in the wild to hatchery or wild spawned parents." This is true. The important issue is whether or not this information is actually needed by managers to decide between management options they have available to them. Sponsors do not establish this. The ISRP had specific comments on the "description of proposed project benefit" as follows (numbers are from the proposal): 5. Assess historic gene flow patterns to assist with various aspects of sturgeon management. Comment: This would be an important contribution -- the question being whether there was really more than a single population in the anadromous portion of the Columbia basin. The sponsors need to demonstrate that the data they generate could actually accomplish this task, beyond the usual calculation of Nm from Fst. 7. Assess relative genetic health and associated demographic conditions of the extant and remnant white sturgeon populations. Comment: How do the sponsors propose to arrive at these conclusions from there data? Is there an established method to make these decisions? 12. Provide valuable new empirical population genetic data for systemwide white sturgeon management and viability and persistence modeling. Comment: How do the sponsors propose to incorporate genetic data into modeling population viability and persistence? 13. Evaluate individual or systemwide population and species status to help determine the urgency and magnitude of management or conservation intervention. Comment: How do the sponsors propose to use genetic data to make these decisions? The sponsors have been involved with sturgeon genetics in other geographic regions. They could provide more compelling evidence that the data they produced are actually employed to help select among alternative management choices to initiate management options.

State/province recommendation: MS: Recommended Action

Review group: MSRT

Recommended budgets: FY07: (n/a) | FY08: (n/a) | FY09: (n/a)

Comment: The sturgeon proposals should be reviewed together. The results of the current sturgeon workshop would help in prioritizing the sturgeon proposals. A comprehensive management plan for sturgeon is a High Priority need.