Spatial and temporal variation in the natal otolith chemistry of a Hawaiian reef fish: prospects for measuring population connectivity

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One of the most compelling unanswered questions in marine ecology is the extent to which local populations are connected via larval exchange. Recent work has suggested that variation in the chemistry of otoliths (earstones) of fishes may function as a natural tag, potentially allowing investigators to determine sources of individual larvae and estimate larval connectivity. We analyzed the spatial and temporal variation in natal otolith chemistry of a benthic-spawning reef fish from the Hawaiian Islands. We found no consistent chemical variation at the largest scale (>100km, among islands), but found significant variation at moderate scales (sites within islands, tens of kilometres) and small scales (clutches within sites), and chemistry of otoliths was not stable between years. These results imply that we may be able to use otolith chemistry to track larval dispersal only if the scales of dispersal match those of variation in natal otolith chemistry, and that separate natal otolith collections may be needed to track different cohorts of larvae. Finally, we found that elemental composition of recruit cores often did not match that of natal otoliths, suggesting that additional methodological development is required before we can effectively apply methods in otolith chemistry to the study of larval dispersal.

Une des questions les plus intrigantes de l’écologie marine encore sans réponse est de savoir dans quelle mesure les populations locales sont reliées entre elles par des échanges de larves. Des travaux récents indiquent que les variations dans la chimie des otolithes des poissons peuvent servir d’étiquettes naturelles qui pourraient permettre aux chercheurs d’identifier l’origine de larves individuelles et d’estimer la connectivité larvaire. Nous analysons la variation spatiale et temporelle de la chimie des otolithes à la naissance d’un poisson de récif à reproduction benthique des îles Hawaii. Nous ne trouvons aucune variation chimique uniforme à l’échelle la plus grande (> 100 km, entre les îles), mais il y en a une significative aux échelles moyennes (sites au sein des îles, dizaines de km) et petites (regroupements au sein des sites); la chimie des otolithes n’est pas stable d’une année à l’autre. Ces résultats ont comme conséquence qu’il sera possible d’utiliser la chimie des otolithes pour retracer la dispersion des larves, seulement si l’échelle de cette dispersion correspond à celle de la variation de la chimie des otolithes à la naissance; de plus, des collections différentes d’otolithes à la naissance seront peut-être nécessaires pour suivre différentes cohortes de larves. Enfin, nous trouvons que la composition en éléments des noyaux des recrues ne correspondent souvent pas à celle des otolithes à la naissance; cela laisse croire qu’il faudra une évolution supplémentaire de la méthodologie avant qu’on puisse efficacement utiliser les méthodes de chimie des otolithes pour étudier la dispersion des larves.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2008

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  • Published continuously since 1901 (under various titles), this monthly journal is the primary publishing vehicle for the multidisciplinary field of aquatic sciences. It publishes perspectives (syntheses, critiques, and re-evaluations), discussions (comments and replies), articles, and rapid communications, relating to current research on cells, organisms, populations, ecosystems, or processes that affect aquatic systems. The journal seeks to amplify, modify, question, or redirect accumulated knowledge in the field of fisheries and aquatic science. Occasional supplements are dedicated to single topics or to proceedings of international symposia.
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