Reconstructing habitat use and wetland nursery origin of yellow perch from lake superior using otolith elemental analysis

John C. Brazner*, Steven E. Campana, Danny K. Tanner, Stephen T. Schram

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


The use of otolith elemental composition as a natural tag has emerged as a powerful tool for managing and understanding the ecology of marine fish populations. The approach remains relatively untested in fresh waters, so we examined its utility for reconstructing habitat use and wetland nursery origin in Lake Superior. We analyzed the otolith margin of adult yellow perch, Perca flavescens, as an indicator of recently occupied habitat, and the juvenile region of the otolith core as an indicator of nursery area. To characterize elemental fingerprints, all otolith samples were analyzed for Ca and 13 minor and trace elements using mass spectrometry. We found differences in the otolith concentrations of several elements between yellow perch inhabiting coastal wetlands and those inhabiting the adjacent nearshore waters of Chequamegon Bay. The most striking difference was the high concentration of Sr in the sagittal margins of wetland-caught fish relative to those captured in the bay. Based on differences in otolith Sr concentrations alone, fish from bay and wetland habitats could be distinguished with 100% accuracy. We also found that elemental fingerprints derived from otolith cores of adult yellow perch were similar among fish captured from wetlands adjacent to Chequamegon Bay but quite distinct for one site outside of the bay, suggesting these fish came from a separate population from those in Chequamegon Bay. Overall, these results encourage us that elemental fingerprinting techniques will be useful for estimating the relative importance of different coastal wetland habitats to wetland-dependent species in the Great Lakes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)492-507
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Great Lakes Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2004

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
All elemental analyses were conducted by Ross Kean and Peter Crowhurst at the RPC Inorganic Analytical Services Laboratory in Fredericton, New Brunswick. We thank Linda Marks and Warren Joyce for their patient assistance in the laboratory, and Anett Trebitz, Richard Pruell, and two anonymous reviewers for insightful comments that improved this manuscript. The information in this document has been funded in part by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It has been subjected to review by the National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory and approved for publication. Approval does not signify that the contents reflect the views of the Agency, nor does mention of trade names or commercial products constitute endorsement or recommendation for use.

Other keywords

  • Elemental fingerprints
  • Great Lakes coastal wetlands
  • Habitat use
  • Lake Superior
  • Lapilli
  • Nursery areas
  • Otolith
  • Perca flavescens
  • Sagittae
  • Yellow perch


Dive into the research topics of 'Reconstructing habitat use and wetland nursery origin of yellow perch from lake superior using otolith elemental analysis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this