Shovelnose Sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus platorynchus) is the smallest and most abundant sturgeon in North America.  Shovelnose sturgeon is native to the large rivers of the Mississippi and Missouri river basins and is thought to have persisted in the region for nearly 100 million years.  Shovelnose Sturgeon typically occupy main-channel habitats with strong currents but commonly use obstructions (artificial or otherwise; e.g., wing dikes) during high flows.  Spawning occurs between April and July, and individuals do not mature until they are 5-7 years of age. Shovelnose Sturgeon eat aquatic invertebrates such as True Fly species and May Fly species.

 

Although Shovelnose Sturgeon populations in the Mississippi and Missouri rivers appear stable, the large tributaries that feed these systems are highly fragmented by dams.  For example, the Arkansas River is one of the largest tributaries to the Mississippi River, and historical accounts confirm Shovelnose Sturgeon occurred upstream to Wichita, Kansas.  Fragmentation is also suspected to block migrations to spawning grounds and has even resulted in species hybridization (Shovelnose Sturgeon x Pallid Sturgeon) due to limited spawning habitat.  The species is also considered extirpated from several other locations where it was once abundant (e.g., Pennsylvania, New Mexico, and portions of Kentucky and Tennessee).  In regions where Pallid Sturgeon (a U.S. federally-listed species) persists, the Shovelnose Sturgeon has also been listed as federally threatened (2010) because of the difficulty in distinguishing between the two species (similarity of appearance provisions of the Endangered Species Act of 1973).  The actions that target protection of Pallid Sturgeon have inevitably provided some benefit to shovelnose sturgeon.  Lastly, some habitat enhancement efforts on select large rivers (e.g., lower Missouri River) have been completed in hopes of improving habitat for Pallid Sturgeon but the benefits to these populations are currently unclear.