Marine Science Faculty Publications

The Effects of Spatial Scale on Assigning Nursery Habitats in Atlantic Goliath Groupers (Epinephelus Itajara) Using Non-lethal Analyses of Fin Rays

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Fin ray chemistry, Ten Thousand Islands, Natural tags, Nursery of origin, Trace element analysis, Chemical fingerprints

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We evaluated Atlantic Goliath Groupers, Epinephelus itajara, in their nursery habitats via microchemical analyses of fin rays. Juveniles were sampled from known nursery habitats off southwest Florida, and adults were primarily sampled from a spawning aggregation off southeast, Florida. We collected fin rays using a non-lethal technique that is minimally invasive with no known negative effects on growth or survival. Trace metal constituents in the fin rays were quantified with an inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer via laser ablation (LA-ICP-MS). Two spatial scales were quantified to test the limitations of grouping individuals based on elemental compositions. On a small spatial scale (i.e., 100s of m), individuals were correctly classified within individual watersheds 64% of the time. On a larger spatial scale (i.e., 10s–100s of km), juveniles were classified with 100% accuracy. Trace metals in adults were analyzed by back-tracking across fin ray annuli to a year in which our previous studies have shown these adults occupied their juvenile habitats (i.e., 2006). These fish were grouped using a measure of dissimilarity and then analyzed to test whether we could reclassify them into these same groupings based solely on the chemical components in their fin rays, which was done with over 84% accuracy. Although juvenile habitats of the adults could not be determined due to the lack of baseline data, classifications were driven by similar elements to those that drove the classification of juveniles, suggesting similar physiological mechanisms. The results highlight the importance of spatial scale for interpreting microchemical analyses on calcified structures in fishes.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Estuaries and Coasts, v. 40, p. 1785-1794