Validation of species specific otolith chemistry and salinity relationships

  • T. Reid NelsonEmail author
  • Sean P. Powers


Strontium (Sr), barium (Ba), and their ratios to calcium (Ca) may be used as indirect proxies of salinity in otoliths, given that generally Sr:Ca is positively and Ba:Ca is negatively related to salinity. However, these relationships are non-linear, dependent on water chemistry, and vary among species. To determine if salinity reconstructions in northern Gulf of Mexico estuaries (nGOM) are possible for Red Drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) and Gulf Killifish (Fundulus grandis), and if ratios were similar between species, the relationships of Sr:Ca and Ba:Ca with salinity in water and otoliths were examined. Fishes were held at low (<1 psu), mid (10 psu), and high (30 psu) salinities established and maintained with water collected from local estuaries. Sr:Ca differed among all treatments for water and Gulf Killifish otoliths, increasing with salinity increases. Sr:Ca was lowest at the <1 psu treatment in Red Drum otoliths, remaining treatments did not differ, and was lower than Gulf Killifish at all treatments. Red Drum otolith and water Ba:Ca differed among all treatments, decreasing with increasing salinity, while Gulf Killifish otolith Ba:Ca was higher at the <1 psu than other treatments. Partition coefficients also differed among species and salinities. These results demonstrate that it should be possible to reconstruct salinities of Red Drum using otolith chemistry in nGOM estuaries. However, Gulf Killifish is not a good proxy species and species-specific validation, across a wide range of salinities, in the estuary of interest, should be conducted before salinity exposure is inferred from otolith elemental ratios.


Otolith Chemistry Salinity Red Drum Gulf Killifish 



We thank Grant Lockridge and Yantzee Hintz of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) for assistance with fish husbandry and maintenance of the DISL wet lab facilities. We also acknowledge the assistance of Laura Linn (DISL) with the ICPMS for both laser and solution analyses. We would also like to thank Josh Neese and other staff at the Alabama Claude Peteet Mariculture Center for providing the sub-adult Red Drum for this project. George Jarvis, Cody Eggenberger, Mariah Livernois, Lindsey Lacenmyer, and Crystal Hightower from the USA/DISL Fisheries Ecology Lab also deserve a thank you for assistance with water collections, fish husbandry, and otolith extraction. Funding for this work was provided by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Gulf Environment Benefit Fund via a subcontract from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. This experiment was reviewed and approved (protocol number 814745-3) by the University of South Alabama Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), Mobile, AL. Finally, we thank three anonymous reviewers whose suggestions and comments greatly improved the manuscript.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Marine SciencesUniversity of South AlabamaMobileUSA
  2. 2.Dauphin Island Sea LabDauphin IslandUSA

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