Semester of Graduation

Fall 2022


Master of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences (SOCS)


Oceanography and Coastal Sciences

Document Type



A generalized additive modeling (GAM) framework was used to characterize fish-habitat relationships and develop habitat suitability maps to predict spatiotemporal and ontogenetic shifts in Gulf sturgeon distribution within an impacted estuary in the northern Gulf of Mexico, Lake Pontchartrain. Gulf sturgeon (n = 103) were fitted with acoustic transmitters in the Pearl River during the early summer and fall from 2013 to 2018, and an array of acoustic receivers (n = 81) was used to monitor Gulf sturgeon habitat use and movement in the estuary from 2016 to 2019. Daily presence data from the telemetry array were paired with environmental conditions hindcasted from a high-resolution hydrodynamic model to develop GAMs for three life stages of Gulf sturgeon: juvenile, sub-adult, and adult. Predictor variables included salinity, temperature, water depth, water level, atmospheric pressure, wind speed, water flow, benthic substrate, latitude, longitude, month, and day of year. Model results demonstrated clear spatial, temporal, and ontogenetic shifts in habitat use for Gulf sturgeon in the Lake Pontchartrain estuary. The importance of spatial and temporal variables in the final models of all life stages suggests that habitat preference for Gulf sturgeon within the estuary is more likely driven by biology (e.g., prey distribution, physiology) rather than environment. Interestingly, dependence of Gulf sturgeon on the estuary for overwintering habitat declined with ontogeny. The northeastern shoreline of Lake Pontchartrain was identified as a potential nursery habitat for overwintering juvenile sturgeon from the Pearl River, while eastern portions of the estuary and associated channels provide critical staging habitat and corridors of connectivity for migrating sub-adult and adult sturgeon moving between the Pearl River and the Gulf of Mexico. Given the clear need to prioritize conservation of Gulf sturgeon while restoring coastal marshes, findings from this study provide needed information to shape future management decisions and inform the siting and timing of future dredging operations in Lake Pontchartrain.



Committee Chair

Dance, Michael A.