MEPS 188:263-297 (1999)  -  doi:10.3354/meps188263

Chemistry and composition of fish otoliths: pathways, mechanisms and applications

Steven E. Campana*

Marine Fish Division, Bedford Institute of Oceanography, PO Box 1006, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia B2Y 4A2, Canada

ABSTRACT: The fish otolith (earstone) has long been known as a timekeeper, but interest in its use as a metabolically inert environmental recorder has accelerated in recent years. In part due to technological advances, applications such as stock identification, determination of migration pathways, reconstruction of temperature and salinity history, age validation, detection of anadromy, use as a natural tag and chemical mass marking have been developed, some of which are difficult or impossible to implement using alternative techniques. Microsampling and the latest advances in beam-based probes allow many elemental assays to be coupled with daily or annual growth increments, thus providing a detailed chronological record of the environment. However, few workers have critically assessed the assumptions upon which the environmental reconstructions are based, or considered the possibility that elemental incorporation into the otolith may proceed differently than that into other calcified structures. This paper reviews current applications and their assumptions and suggests future directions. Particular attention is given to the premises that the elemental and isotopic composition of the otolith reflects that of the environment, and the effect of physiological filters on the resulting composition. The roles of temperature, elemental uptake into the fish and the process of otolith crystallization are also assessed. Drawing upon recent advances in geochemistry and paleoclimate research as points of contrast, it appears that not all applications of otolith chemistry are firmly based, although others are destined to become powerful and perhaps routine tools for the mainstream fish biologist.

KEY WORDS: Otolith · Element · Isotope · Composition · Stock identification · Temperature history

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