Migratory patterns of American shad (Alosa sapidissima) revealed by natural geochemical tags in otoliths
Walther, Benjamin D.
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Geochemical signatures in the otoliths of diadromous fishes may allow for retrospective analyses of natal origins. In an assessment of river-specific signatures in American shad (Alosa sapidissima), an anadromous clupeid native to the Atlantic coast of North America, stable isotope and elemental ratios in otoliths of juvenile American shad produced accurate natal tags from 12 rivers. Significant inter-annual variability in geochemical signatures from several rivers was detected, due largely to differences in δ18O values among years. The database was further expanded to include 20 rivers from Florida to Quebec, encompassing all major spawning populations. This task was accomplished by collecting juvenile otoliths along with water samples from rivers where juveniles were not sampled. Regressions between otolith and water chemistry for those rivers where both were collected showed significant relationships for Sr:Ca, Ba:Ca, δ18O, and 87Sr:86Sr ratios but not for Mg:Ca or Mn:Ca. Despite reducing the combined signature to only four chemical ratios, cross-validated classification accuracies of knownorigin juveniles averaged 93%. Ground-truthed signatures were used to classify migrants of unknown origins. Adults returning to spawn in the York River were classified according to their otolith composition. Only 6% of spawners originated from rivers other than the York, supporting the hypothesis that most American shad spawn in their natal river. Of remaining spawners, 79% originated from the Mattaponi River and 21% from the Pamunkey River. The results suggested that while most American shad home to their natal river there is less fidelity to individual tributaries, allowing subsidies to subpopulations with persistent recruitment failure. Otolith signatures were also used in mixed-stock analyses of immature migrants along the coast of Maine in the spring and Minas Basin in the summer. Mixed-stock compositions showed remarkably low diversity and were dominated by fish from the Shubenacadie and Hudson rivers, with an increasing proportion of Potomac River fish over time. In contrast to results from adult tagging studies, southern stocks were virtually absent. These data suggest ontogenetic shifts in migratory behavior. The thesis concludes with a report that water contributed 83% of Sr and 98% of Ba in the otoliths of a marine fish.
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution February 2007
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