MEPS 220:265-276 (2001)  -  doi:10.3354/meps220265

Facultative catadromy of the eel Anguilla japonica between freshwater and seawater habitats

Katsumi Tsukamoto*, Takaomi Arai

Ocean Research Institute, The University of Tokyo, Minamidai, Nakano, Tokyo 164-8639, Japan

ABSTRACT: To confirm the occurrence of marine residents of the Japanese eel, Anguilla japonica, which have never entered freshwater (Œsea eelsŒ), we measured Sr and Ca concentrations by X-ray electron microprobe analysis of the otoliths of 69 yellow and silver eels, collected from 10 localities in seawater and freshwater habitats around Japan, and classified their migratory histories. Two-dimensional images of the Sr concentration in the otoliths showed that all specimens generally had a high Sr core at the center of their otolith, which corresponded to a period of their leptocephalus and early glass eel stages in the ocean, but there were a variety of different patterns of Sr concentration and concentric rings outside the central core. Line analysis of Sr/Ca ratios along the radius of each otolith showed peaks (ca 15 x 10-3) between the core and out to about 150 µm (elver mark). The pattern change of the Sr/Ca ratio outside of 150 µm indicated 3 general categories of migratory history: Œriver eelsŒ, Œestuarine eelsŒ and Œsea eelsŒ. These 3 categories corresponded to mean values of Sr/Ca ratios of >6.0 x 10-3 for sea eels, which spent most of their life in the sea and did not enter freshwater, of 2.5 to 6.0 x 10-3 for estuarine eels, which inhabited estuaries or switched between different habitats, and of <2.5 x 10-3 for river eels, which entered and remained in freshwater river habitats after arrival in the estuary. The occurrence of sea eels was 20% of all specimens examined and that of river eels, 23%, while estuarine eels were the most prevalent (57%). The occurrence of sea eels was confirmed at 4 localities in Japanese coastal waters, including offshore islands, a small bay and an estuary. The finding of estuarine eels as an intermediate type, which appear to frequently move between different habitats, and their presence at almost all localities, suggested that A. japonica has a flexible pattern of migration, with an ability to adapt to various habitats and salinities. Thus, anguillid eel migrations into freshwater are clearly not an obligatory migratory pathway, and this form of diadromy should be defined as facultative catadromy, with the sea eel as one of several ecophenotypes. Furthermore, this study indicates that eels which utilize the marine environment to various degrees during their juvenile growth phase may make a substantial contribution to the spawning stock each year.

KEY WORDS: Anguilla japonica · Japanese eel · Catadromy · Migration · Migratory history · Otolith · Sr/Ca · Marine resident · Life history transect · Habitat transition

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