MEPS 434:133-142 (2011)  -  doi:10.3354/meps09222

Decoding fingerprints: elemental composition of vertebrae correlates to age-related habitat use in two morphologically similar sharks

Bree J. Tillett1,2,5,*, Mark G. Meekan4, David Parry3,5, Niels Munksgaard3, Iain C. Field1,6, Dean Thorburn7, Corey J. A. Bradshaw8,9

1School for Environmental Research, 2Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge Research Hub, and 3School of Environment and Life Sciences, Charles Darwin University, Northern Territory 0810, Australia
4Australian Institute of Marine Science, UWA Oceans Institute (MO 96), 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, Western Australia 6009, Australia
5Australian Institute of Marine Science, Arafura Timor Research Facility, Northern Territory 0810, Australia
6Graduate School of the Environment, Macquarie University, New South Wales 2109, Australia
7Indo-Pacific Environmental, Mount Hawthorn, Western Australia 6010, Australia
8The Environment Institute and School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia 5005, Australia
9South Australian Research and Development Institute, PO Box 120, Henley Beach, South Australia 5022, Australia

ABSTRACT: We compare vertebral microchemistry with previously described age-related movement patterns of bull sharks Carcharhinus leucas and pig-eye sharks C. amboinensis within coastal waters of north Australia. Laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) quantified the chemical signatures of nursery habitats within the vertebrae of juvenile and adult sharks. We examined evidence for adults returning to these habitats by applying LA-ICP-MS along a growth axis of their vertebrae. We transposed chemical signatures with growth increments in adult vertebrae to correlate with age estimates. Unique elemental signatures were identified in each of the freshwater nurseries, but we did not find them in adult vertebrae. Age-specific changes in vertebral microchemistry in mature female bull sharks correlate with periodic returns every 1 to 2 yr  to less saline environments to pup. We were unable to discriminate among natal habitats of pig-eye sharks using elemental fingerprints, and age-specific changes in vertebral microchemistry were also absent. We conclude that changes in vertebral microchemistry correlate with known habitat use patterns of the bull and pig-eye sharks, showing the potential of vertebral microchemistry to discern movement patterns in sharks.


KEY WORDS: Vertebral microchemistry · LA-ICP-MS · Movement · Long-term · Resource partitioning · Carcharhinidae


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Cite this article as: Tillett BJ, Meekan MG, Parry D, Munksgaard N, Field IC, Thorburn D, Bradshaw CJA (2011) Decoding fingerprints: elemental composition of vertebrae correlates to age-related habitat use in two morphologically similar sharks. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 434:133-142

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