Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Whitledge, Gregory


Knowledge of environmental history is important for the management and conservation of fish populations. Multiple methods to tag or mark fish have been developed (e.g., radio transmitters, coded wire tags, PIT tags, genetic markers), however, each of these methods has limitations. Naturally occurring and artificial chemical markers in otoliths have recently been used to determine natal origins and environmental history of fishes in both marine and freshwater environments and are not subject to the shortcomings of conventional tagging methods. However, few studies have evaluated the application of fish fin rays as a non-lethal alternative to fish otoliths as a recorder of individual fish environmental history. Therefore, I evaluated the application of artificial and naturally occurring chemical markers in fish fin rays as tracers of individual environmental histories. Specifically, I sought to determine 1) if age-0 lake sturgeon pectoral fin rays could be marked by immersion in strontium carbonate (SrCO3) enriched with the stable isotope 86Sr (86SrCO3), 2) whether natural differences in otolith and fin spine chemistry are present in catfish species collected from the Mississippi River basin, and 3) whether natural differences in fin ray chemistry are present in smallmouth bass from different rivers and streams in northern Illinois. Results from the first objective indicated that age-0 lake sturgeon were marked with 83% success when reared in water enriched with 100 µg/L of 86SrCO3, compared to control fish, and mark retention was maintained for at least 120 d following the labeling period. Results of the second objective indicated that both catfish otolith Sr:Ca, δ18O, and δ13C and fin spine Sr:Ca differed among sites, reflecting geographic differences in water chemistry at source locations. Both structures classified fish to their environment of capture with a high degree of accuracy, except in the Middle and Lower Mississippi Rivers where many recent immigrants appeared to be present. Similarly, smallmouth bass fin ray core Sr:Ca differed among sites, reflecting previously documented differences in water chemistry among streams and rivers in northern Illinois. Classification accuracy of smallmouth bass to their environment of capture based on fin ray Sr:Ca was variable, as some rivers had similar water chemistry signatures. The use of artificial chemical marks in fin rays will be useful when marking small fish that may not respond well to physical tags, when non-lethal recovery is desirable, and to distinguish between multiple batches of stocked fish (i.e. to evaluate factors such as stocking location and timing, fish size, and when fish may become interspersed into the existing population). Natural chemical signatures in pectoral fin rays or fin spines may provide a non-lethal alternative to otoliths for gathering information on environmental history (e.g. stock mixing, recruitment sources) of smallmouth bass and catfishes, consistent with recent demonstrations of this technique's effectiveness in other fish species. Ultimately, the use of artificial and naturally occurring chemical marks in fish fin rays provides a non-lethal alternative method to evaluate the environmental history of all life stages of fish




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