Interim progress report on a study of the utility of data obtainable from otoliths to management of Humpback Chub (Gila cypha) in the Grand Canyon




Hendrickson, Dean A.

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Daily growth increments of otoliths of fishes have been useful in many fishery applications since they have been demonstrated to provide a precise method of ageing individuals and reconstructing individual growth and, possibly, movement or habitat histories. These techniques have not been previously applied to humpback chub, but are believed to have considerable potential for providing knowledge of this difficult to sample and little-understood species. Large temperature and water quality gradients apparently traversed by individuals of this species in the Grand Canyon are of a magnitude likely to produce structural and/or chemical signals in the crystalline calcareous otoliths. If so, since otoliths grow by accretion of daily increments (much like trees develop yearly growth rings), and are stable structures, which unlike scales, are not susceptible to reabsorption except in the most extreme conditions, they retain a structural and chemical chronology of habitats occupied. If the relationships of ambient physical and chemical conditions to otolith structure and composition can be described, a chronology of habitat occupancy and growth for individuals could theoretically be reconstructed with daily precision. Such reconstructions of growth rates, birth dates, movement histories, and possibly, birth place (based on chemistry at otolith formation or during early life), could provide extremely valuable life-history information regarding timing of spawning, cohort recruitment, mortality rates, and data on other population parameters critical for management of this endangered species. The feasibility of using otoliths and opercles of humpback chub for age estimation of individuals has been preliminarily investigated by examining otoliths and opercles from a total of 47 juvenile (ages 0 through 1 +)and 43 adult (estimated ages 2- 23) specimens collected in the Little Colorado River (71 specimens) and mainstream Colorado River (19 specimens) at various places in the Grand Canyon between 1988 and 1992. Studies are continuing, and at this point, due to both sample size and numerous other limitations, and ongoing refinements of techniques, conclusions made here are highly preliminary. Structures prepared and examined included opercles of 35 specimens, one asteriscus from each of 47 specimens and a lapillus from each of 56 specimens. Seventeen specimens were evaluated using all three calcareous structures (lapillus, asteriscus and opercle). The sagitta was also examined, but found to be unsuitable for ageing purposes due to its long, delicate form and irregular increments after the larval/juvenile stage. Additional lapilli have been removed from other available specimens, and a complete inventory of specimens available for further study of calcified structures is provided. Studies of micro-spatial variation in chemical composition of selected lapilli is in progress, using the highly accurate proton probe at the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences in Lower Hutt, New Zealand. This method of analysis shows great promise of overcoming what has been indicated in recent literature to be significant inaccuracies of other techniques (Energy Dispersive X-ray diffraction and Wave Length dispersive X-ray diffraction) used in many of the published studies of microspatial elemental analysis of otoliths.


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