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Integrating physiological data with the conservation and management of fishes: a meta-analytical review using the threatened green sturgeon (Acipenser medirostris)


Reversing global declines in the abundance and diversity of fishes is dependent on science-based conservation solutions. A wealth of data exist on the ecophysiological constraints of many fishes, but much of this information is underutilized in recovery plans due to a lack of synthesis. Here, we used the imperiled green sturgeon (Acipenser medirostris) as an example of how a quantitative synthesis of physiological data can inform conservation plans, identify knowledge gaps and direct future research actions. We reviewed and extracted metadata from peer-reviewed papers on green sturgeon. A total of 105 publications were identified, spanning multiple disciplines, with the primary focus being conservation physiology (23.8%). A meta-analytical approach was chosen to summarize the mean effects of prominent stressors (elevated temperatures, salinity, low food availability and contaminants) on several physiological traits (growth, thermal tolerance, swimming performance and heat shock protein expression). All examined stressors significantly impaired green sturgeon growth, and additional stressor-specific costs were documented. These findings were then used to suggest several management actions, such as mitigating salt intrusion in nursery habitats and maintaining water temperatures within optimal ranges during peak spawning periods. Key data gaps were also identified; research efforts have been biased towards juvenile (38.1%) and adult (35.2%) life-history stages, and less data are available for early life-history stages (embryonic, 11.4%; yolk-sac larvae, 12.4%; and post yolk-sac larvae, 16.2%). Similarly, most data were collected from single-stressor studies (91.4%) and there is an urgent need to understand interactions among stressors as anthropogenic change is multi-variate and dynamic. Collectively, these findings provide an example of how meta-analytic reviews are a powerful tool to inform management actions, with the end goal of maximizing conservation gains from research efforts.

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