Using otolith microchemistry and shape to assess the habitat value of oil structures for reef fish

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Journal Article
Marine Environmental Research, 2015, 106 (1), pp. 103 - 113
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© 2015 Elsevier Ltd. Over 7500 oil and gas structures (e.g. oil platforms) are installed in offshore waters worldwide and many will require decommissioning within the next two decades. The decision to remove such structures or turn them into reefs (i.e. 'rigs-to-reefs') hinges on the habitat value they provide, yet this can rarely be determined because the residency of mobile species is difficult to establish. Here, we test a novel solution to this problem for reef fishes; the use of otolith (earstone) properties to identify oil structures of residence. We compare the otolith microchemistry and otolith shape of a site-attached coral reef fish (. Pseudanthias rubrizonatus) among four oil structures (depth 82-135m, separated by 9.7-84.2km) on Australia's North West Shelf to determine if populations developed distinct otolith properties during their residency. Microchemical signatures obtained from the otolith edge using laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) differed among oil structures, driven by elements Sr, Ba and Mn, and to a lesser extent Mg and Fe. A combination of microchemical data from the otolith edge and elliptical Fourier (shape) descriptors allowed allocation of individuals to their 'home' structure with moderate accuracy (overall allocation accuracy: 63.3%, range: 45.5-78.1%), despite lower allocation accuracies for each otolith property in isolation (microchemistry: 47.5%, otolith shape: 45%). Site-specific microchemical signatures were also stable enough through time to distinguish populations during 3 separate time periods, suggesting that residence histories could be recreated by targeting previous growth zones in the otolith. Our results indicate that reef fish can develop unique otolith properties during their residency on oil structures which may be useful for assessing the habitat value of individual structures. The approach outlined here may also be useful for determining the residency of reef fish on artificial reefs, which would assist productivity assessments of these habitats.
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