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Otolith elemental signatures reflect residency in coastal water masses


We examined variability in otolith chemistry of wild caught fish in relation to in situ temperature and salinity within the California Current System. Barium, magnesium, and iron from the most recent growth zone in otoliths differentiated pelagic juvenile shortbelly rockfish (Sebastes jordani) residing in water masses with distinct temperature and salinity properties from central and southern California spanning nearly 500 km of coastline. The 3-element signature also discriminated fish that resided in different water masses that were associated with mesoscale cyclonic eddy circulation in the Santa Barbara Channel. Variability in otolith chemistry reflected the spatial patterns of both horizontal gradients and vertical gradients in water mass properties related to circulation. Although we found that the concentrations of particular elements in otoliths were correlated to ambient temperature or salinity, we suggest that these parameters are more useful as an identifying signature of distinct water masses associated with unique otolith signatures rather than as factors directly affecting otolith chemistry. Other factors varying among the water masses or among the fish populations residing in the water masses may also affect otolith chemistry. We discuss how oceanographic phenomena associated with the 1997–1998 El Niño and the persistent, recirculating eddy in the Channel may have affected coastal ocean conditions and variation in otolith chemistry of fish in the study area.

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