Marine Science Faculty Publications

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Isotope chronology, Fin-ray chemistry, Ontogeny, Trophic shifts, Nursery, Mangrove habitat, Food web, Diet

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The Atlantic Goliath Grouper, Epinephelus itajara, is critically endangered throughout its range but has begun to show initial signs of recovery in Florida state waters. As the population continues to rebound, researchers face a pressing need to fill the knowledge gaps about this iconic species. Here, we examined the δ15N isotopic records in fin rays collected from Atlantic Goliath Grouper, and related changes of isotopic ratios over time to life history characteristics. Fin-ray analysis was used as a non-lethal technique to sample individuals from two locations at similar latitudes from the west and east coasts of Florida, USA. δ15N data were acquired by mechanically separating the annuli of each fin ray and then analyzing the material in an Irradiance Elemental Analyzer Mass Spectrometer. The δ15N values were consistent among individuals within populations from each coast of Florida, and mirrored the expected changes over the lives of the fish. Overall, differences were found between δ15N values at juvenile life history phases versus adult phases, but the patterns associated with these differences were unique to each coastal group. We demonstrated, for the first time, that δ15N values from fin rays can be used to assess the life histories of Atlantic Goliath Grouper. The non-lethal strategies outlined here can be used to acquire information essential to the management of species of concern, such as those that are threatened or endangered.

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PeerJ, v. 3, art. e1010

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