The Chinese sturgeon, Acipenser sinensis, is an anadromous protected species that presently only spawns in the Yangtze River. Using laboratory experiments, we examined the behavioral preference of young Chinese sturgeon to physical habitat (water depth, illumination intensity, substrate color, and cover) and monitored their downstream migration. Hatchling free embryos were photopositive, preferred open habitat, and immediately upon hatching, swam far above the bottom using swim-up and drift. Downstream migration peaked on days 0-1, decreased about 50% or more during days 2-7, and ceased by day 8. Days 0-1 migrants were active both day and night, but days 2-7 migrants were most active during the day. After ceasing migration, days 8-11 embryos were photonegative, preferred dark substrate and sought cover. Free embryos developed into larvae and began feeding on day 12, when another shift in behavior occurred-larvae returned to photopositive behavior and preferred white substrate. The selective factor favoring migration of free embryos upon hatching and swimming far above the bottom may be avoidance of benthic predatory fishes. Free embryos, which must rely on yolk energy for activity and growth, only used 19 cumulative temperature degree-days for peak migration compared to 234 degree-days for growth to first feeding larvae, a 1 : 12 ratio of cumulative temperature units. This ratio suggests that sturgeon species with large migratory embryos, like Chinese sturgeon, which require a high level of energy to swim during migration, may migrate only a short time to conserve most yolk energy for growth.
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