Quantifying physiological influences on otolith microchemistry

Anna M. Sturrock, Ewan Hunter, J. Andrew Milton, Rachel C. Johnson, Colin P. Waring, Clive N. Trueman

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Trace element concentrations in fish earstones (‘otoliths’) are widely used to discriminate spatially discrete populations or individuals of marine fish, based on a commonly held assumption that physiological influences on otolith composition are minor, and thus variations in otolith elemental chemistry primarily reflect changes in ambient water chemistry.

We carried out a long-term (1-year) experiment, serially sampling seawater, blood plasma and otoliths of mature and immature European plaice (Pleuronectes platessa L.) to test relationships between otolith chemistry and environmental and physiological variables.

Seasonal variations in otolith elemental composition did not track seawater concentrations, but instead reflected physiological controls on metal transport and biokinetics, which are likely moderated by ambient temperature. The influence of physiological factors on otolith composition was particularly evident in Sr/Ca ratios, the most widely used elemental marker in applied otolith microchemistry studies. Reproduction also triggered specific variations in otolith and blood plasma metal chemistry, especially Zn/Ca ratios in female fish, which could potentially serve as retrospective spawning indicators.

The influence of physiology on the trace metal composition of otoliths may explain the success of microchemical stock discrimination in relatively homogenous marine environments, but could complicate alternative uses for trace element compositions in biominerals of higher organisms.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)806–816
JournalMethods in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number7
Early online date4 Jun 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2015
Externally publishedYes


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