Natural chemical markers in otoliths and fin rays have proven useful for describing environmental history of fishes in a variety of environments. However, no studies have evaluated smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu) pectoral fin ray chemistry as a non-lethal alternative to otolith chemistry. We evaluated the trace element composition of smallmouth bass fin rays collected from northern Illinois rivers and determined the accuracy with which fish could be classified to their environment of capture using pectoral fin ray strontium:calcium (Sr:Ca) and barium:calcium (Ba:Ca) ratios. Fish were collected from nine sites during summer 2008. Fin ray Sr:Ca differed among some sites, reflecting previously observed differences in water and otolith chemistry for other fish species. Fin ray Ba:Ca did not differ among sites. Classification accuracy for individual fish to location of capture based on fin ray Sr:Ca was relatively poor when data from all nine sites in different watersheds were included. However, individual fish captured from the upper Illinois River watershed were accurately assigned to the river in which they were collected when data were restricted to these sites. Natural chemical signatures in fin rays will likely be effective for reconstructing environmental history of smallmouth bass when spatial differences in water chemistry are present, enabling investigations of stock mixing and recruitment sources for this species.
Journal of Freshwater Ecology