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

Bree J. Tillett, Mark G. Meekan, David Parry, Niels Munksgaard, Iain C. Field, Dean Thorburn, Corey J A Bradshaw

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    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 fresh - water 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. 

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)133-142
    Number of pages10
    JournalMarine Ecology - Progress Series
    Volume434
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 28 Jul 2011

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