Factors determining δ 13C and δ 18O fractionation in aragonitic otoliths of marine fish

Simon R. Thorrold, Steven E. Campana, Cynthia M. Jones, Peter K. Swart

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282 Scopus citations


Fish otoliths are aragonitic accretions located within the inner ear of teleost fish. The acellular nature of otoliths, along with taxon-specific shapes, chronological growth increments, and abundance in the fossil record suggest that the stable isotope chemistry of these structures may be unique recorders of environmental conditions experienced by fish in both modern and ancient water masses. To assess the factors determining δ 13C and δ 18O fractionation in fish otoliths, we reared Atlantic croaker (Micropogonias undulatus) larvae under controlled environmental conditions. Metabolic effects apparently generated large isotopic disequilibria in the δ 13C values of M. undulatus otoliths. We found evidence of a negative regression between δ 13Ccarbonate13Cwater13C) and temperature: Δ 13C = -1.78 - 0.18 T°C However, this relationship was aliased to a degree by a positive correlation between Δ 13C and somatic growth and otolith precipitation rates. Oxygen isotopes were deposited close to equilibrium with the ambient water. The relationship between temperature and the 18O/16O fractionation factor (α) was determined empirically to be: 1000 In α = 18.56(103 T K-1) - 32.54 The fractionation factor was not affected by either otolith precipitation or fish growth rates. Reconstruction of water temperature histories should, therefore, be possible from the δ 18O values of M. undulatus otoliths with a precision of 1°C, providing the δ 18O of the ambient water can be estimated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2909-2919
Number of pages11
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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