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Fish otoliths and fisher knowledge as mobile monitors of environmental conditions: an integrated approach


Fish and fishers are affected by the environmental conditions they experience throughout their lives, from daily, annual to decadal time scales. Currently, the oceans are changing fast, as global warming increases the temperature of the water and reduces oxygen levels within it. However, there is still an important knowledge gap about how these shifting conditions influence wild populations of fish, especially in the early life stages of tropical species inhabiting mangrove lagoons or for adult fishes dwelling in the deep ocean. In this dissertation, we use the chronological and chemical properties of otoliths – calcified structures within the inner ear of fish – to investigate how temperature correlates with fish growth, to improve our understanding of their populations, and to develop proxies for hypoxia exposure in deep-sea fishes. Chapter 1 asks how the water temperature inside mangrove lagoons regulates the first year of growth for yellow snappers in the Gulf of California. We found that these animals grow faster in warmer waters until they experience a thermal threshold (~ 32° C) beyond which their growth rate is reduced. Chapter 2 tests the effects of extrinsic (water chemistry and temperature) and intrinsic (growth rate and taxonomy) factors on otolith chemistry. Using distinct species from Galápagos (yellow snapper and sailfin grouper) and the same species (yellow snapper) between Galápagos and the Gulf of California, we observed that extrinsic factors seem to be more important than intrinsic factors as influences on otolith microchemistry. Chapter 3 examines the population structure of yellow snappers in the Gulf of California and Galápagos mangroves by using otolith microchemistry and genetic analyses in tandem. These methodologies were complementary and helped to elucidate a source-sink metapopulation structure for Galápagos snappers, and a self-recruitment scenario for the Gulf snappers, with important implications for the mangrove management at these ecosystems. Chapter 4 explores the use of fish as mobile monitors of hypoxic conditions in Oxygen Minimum Zones (OMZs). Surprisingly, fishes with distinct life-history traits (longevity and thermal history) and from different OMZs (NE Pacific and SE Atlantic), but exposed to comparable low oxygen conditions, exhibited high similarity in their otolith chemistry. These findings may provide a baseline for tracking the ongoing expansion of OMZs. Lastly, Chapter 5 inquires how fishers’ local ecological knowledge (LEK) in the Galápagos Archipelago can help to elucidate the effects of climate variability on fish. We observed that LEK is in line with the scientific literature regarding distributional shifts in marine species and anomalous weather conditions during strong El Niño years.

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