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Identification of Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) stocks from putative nurseries using otolith chemistry

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Chemical signatures in the otoliths of teleost fishes represent natural tags that may reflect differences in the chemical and physical characteristics of an individuals' environment. Otolith chemistry of Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) was quantified to assess the feasibility of using these natural tags to discriminate juveniles (age 0 and age 1) from putative nurseries. A suite of six elements (Li, Mg, Ca, Mn, Sr and Ba) was measured in whole otoliths using solution-based inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. Otolith chemistry of age-1 T. thynnus collected from the two primary nurseries in the Mediterranean Sea and western Atlantic Ocean differed significantly, with a cross-validated classification accuracy of 85%. Spatial and temporal variation in otolith chemistry was evaluated for age-0 T. thynnus collected from three nurseries within the Mediterranean Sea: Alboran Sea (Spain), Ligurian Sea (northern Italy), and Tyrrhenian Sea (southern Italy). Distinct differences in otolith chemistry were detected among Mediterranean nurseries and classification accuracies ranged from 62 to 80%. Interannual trends in otolith chemistry were observed between year classes of age-0 T. thynnus in the Alboran Sea; however, no differences were detected between year classes in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Age-0 and age-1 T. thynnus collected from the same region (Ligurian Sea) were also compared and distinct differences in otolith chemistry were observed, indicating ontogenetic shifts in habitat or elemental discrimination. Findings suggest that otolith chemistry of juvenile T. thynnus from different nurseries are distinct and chemical signatures show some degree of temporal persistence, indicating the technique has considerable potential for use in future assessments of population connectivity and stock structure of T. thynnus.

Keywords: Atlantic bluefin tuna; Gulf of Mexico; Mediterranean; migration; otolith; stock structure

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, PO Box 38, Solomons, Maryland 20688, USA 2: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service, James J. Howard Marine Sciences Laboratory, Highlands, New Jersey 07732, USA 3: Department of Animal Health and Welfare, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Bari, Str. Prov. Casamassima km 3 c/o Tecnopolis 70010 Valenzano, Italy 4: Istituto de Zoologia, Universita di Genova, Via Balbi 5, 16126 Genova, Italy

Publication date: March 1, 2003


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