The gar family (Lepisosteidae) have been around since the Cretaceous Period (~100 million years ago. Gars and bowfin are the sister group to other teleost fishes and, therefore, of interest to evolutionary biologists. The largest gars are in the genus Atractosteus, the three extant species are Alligator Gar (or Catan in Mexico), the Cuban Gar A. tristoechus or Manjuari from western Cuba, and the Tropical Gar A. tropicus (or Pejelagarto) from southern Mexico and Central America. Among these three, the Alligator Gar is most imperiled. Gar are fascinating and misunderstood creatures, and unfortunately, the influence of habitat restoration for gars has not yet been fully explored. Efforts are now underway to restore these magnificent creatures via supplemental stocking. It will take many years, up to 50 years, for stocked Alligator Gar to reach the potential maximum sizes. Supplemental stocking is an uncertain and expensive short-term strategy. Until natural spawning and rearing habitats can be restored, supplemental stocking is necessary.
|Alligator Gar that weighed 108 pounds was sampled May 27, 2015 by Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. Creative Commons by NC-ND-2.0. Source.|
|Ten-foot long Alligator Gar photographed in 1920 from Mhoon Landing, Mississippi River. Public Domain|
|Map of Spawning Habitat in Floodplains of Trinity River, Texas. Robertson et al. (2018)|
|Plot of area of Alligator Gar spawning habitat versus river flow. Robertson et al. (2018).|
In 2014, Kimmel et al. (2014) witnessed spawning of Alligator Gar in floodplain habitat in the Mississippi river floodplains at St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge. A large aggregation of Alligator Gar was observed in a flooded ditch, lined with buttonbush, shrubs, and herbaceous vegetation four miles from the main river channel. These spawning observations help to validate the habitat suitability criteria used by Robertson et al. (2018).
|Spawning behavior displayed by Alligator Gar observed by Kimmel et al. (2014) in floodplains of St. Catherine Creek, near Natchez, Mississippi.|
|Eggs of Alligator Gar deposited in woody debris and vegetation. Kimmel et al.(2014).|
|Larva of the Spotted Gar Lepisosteus oculatus. Photo by Konrad P. Schmidt.|
Buckmeier, D.L., N.G. Smith, D.J. Daugherty, and D.L. Bennett. 2017. Reproductive ecology of Alligator Gar: Identification of environmental drivers of recruitment success. Journal of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies 4:8-17.
Kimmel, K., Y. Allen, and G. Constant. 2014. Seeing is believing: alligator gar spawning event confirms model predictions. Website https://lccnetwork.org/blog_entry/seeing-believing-alligator-gar-spawning-event-confirms-habitat-suitability-index Accessed June 20, 2018.
McManamay, R. A., D.J. Orth, J. Kauffman, and M.M. Davis. 2013. A database and meta-analysis of ecological responses to stream flow in the south Atlantic region. Southeastern Naturalist 12(Monograph):1-36.
Mendoza, R., C. Aguilera, G. Rodríguez, M. Gonz.lez, and R. Castro. 2002. Morphophysiological studies on alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula) larval development as a basis for their culture and repopulation of their natural habitats. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 12:133–142.
O’Connell, M. T., T. D. Shepherd, A. M. U. O’Connell, and R. A. Myers. 2007. Long-term declines in two apex predators, bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) and alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula), in Lake Pontchartrain, an oligohaline estuary in southeastern Louisiana. Estuaries and Coasts 30:567–574.
Robertson, C.R., K. Aziz, D.L. Buckmeier, N.G. Smith, and N. Raphelt. 2018. Development of flow-specific floodplain inundation model to assess Alligator Gar recruitment success. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society DOI: 10.1002/tafs.10045
Schmitt, K. 2015. Gar farming. American Currents 40(4):3-9