Lesson 05: Larval Dispersal

Sturgeon Lesson Plan #5

Lesson Title: What influences the distance moved by larval lake sturgeon immediately after the time of egg hatch 


Knowledge of the effects of environment and family on behavior during early life stages of many fish species including lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) is generally lacking.  Data are particularly important at a time when human activities are fundamentally altering habitats and seasonal and diel physical and biotic stream features.  Students will review data and background associated with a experimental studies at the MSU/MiDNR Black Lake Stream-side facility to quantify larval lake sturgeon dispersal distances and stream substrate preference using post-hatch larvae from different females whose eggs were incubated at different temperatures that simulated stream conditions during early and late spawning and incubation periods in the Black River, MI.  The students will see how larval dispersal behavior can be important to individual survival and population levels of recruitment that can vary based on location, size, and degree of fragmentation of habitats between adult spawning and larval rearing areas.


The student’s assignment is to take data provided in the accompanying Excel spreadsheet to determine whether there is evidence for differences in embryo dispersal as a function of stream substrate, family, and incubation temperature.  Specifically, review the background and methods used in the experiment to (a) develop hypotheses related to dispersal behavior, (b) summarize and compare dispersal distances among tank treatments, between families, and between incubation temperature regimes (‘warm’ vs ‘cold’).

Subjects: Science, Math

Grade Level(s): 9-12

Content Standards:

Duration: 2-3 days

Materials/What you Will Need:

Lesson introductory video
Background Word file
Excel spreadsheet with data
Figure of experimental design


Video may require Adobe Flash Player

See background pdf document that describes the purpose of the experiments and the methods used to collect the data.


The student will be provided with figures of the study design and background information on how and study was conducted and why the information is important.  An excel spreadsheet is provided with data.   There are different sets of data.  The primary data set describes the distance moved and the substrates that the larvae settled in.  The primary variable is distance moved.  There are other variables that will require the students to summarize information and take these data summaries back to the primary data to really appreciate the complexity of the data.  These secondary data sets include the incubation temperature of the eggs prior to hatch and family.  These data speak to the importance of other variables during previous life stages on response in the current stage (the response is distance moved).  For example, incubation temperature could affect body size which can affect movement ability.

The student should be able to graph data to summarize data.  The student should be able to summarize variation (variances or standard deviations or standard errors associated with means calculated).

Extended Learning Opportunities:

This lesson is an extension of other lessons that present data on early lake sturgeon life stages.

Assessment and Evaluation:

Student demonstration of breadth and depth of knowledge of the data as seen through summaries of data presented, statistical evaluation of significance of results, and discussion of results.  How compelling is the student’s arguments for or against his/her findings?  How critical was the students in evaluation of alternative explanations of results?  How well did the student take results back to the hypotheses developed to explain the data?

Lesson Sources:

Larval Dispersal Background (PDF)
Larval Dispersal Figure (PDF)
Egg Stage Section of this web site
Embryo Stage Section of this web site
Other information given in this website

Data Sources:

embryo sturgeon behavior

Supporting Resources:

USFWS Web Site
Literature in pdf files in ‘About Us’ section of the web site and references provided in these papers
Student Handouts on Background and Methods