Fish Ear Bones Hold Climate Change Secrets

Written by on November 29, 2012 in Marine Life

Emily Tripp

Close-up of an otolith.

Close-up of an otolith. Photo credit: NOAA/NMFS.

New research shows that fish ear bones (otoliths) hold information about the impacts of climate change on marine environments.

The otoliths are an important part of fish anatomy, as they help the fish detect movement and allow the fish to orient itself in the water. Otoliths can also be used to determine a fish’s age because they are marked with annual growth rings.

“They are widely used to support fishery stock assessments, and are beginning to be used to measure and predict ecological responses to ocean warming and climate change,” explained Dr. John Morrongiello of CSIRO’s Wealth from Oceans Flagship and lead author of the study. “Their otoliths record variations in growth rates that reflect environmental conditions. Longer-lived fish and older samples take us back as far as the 1800s,” he continued.

This study builds on previous research by co-author Dr. Ron Thresher of CSIRO, who focused on the potential of using fish “hard parts” like otoliths, as well as deep sea corals, to better understand environmental change.

In a continuation of this research, the team will focus on fish with high commercial value in order to determine what environmental factors drive fish growth.

“Any change identified in growth and age maturity, especially of commercially-important species, clearly has implications for forecasting future stock states and the sustainable management of fisheries,” said Dr. Thresher. “A better ability to predict such change will greatly enhance our ability to forecast, manage and adapt to the impacts of climate change in marine and freshwater systems.”

According to Dr. Morrongiello, this research will “help to guide the conservation and management of our aquatic environments into the future.”

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Copyright © 2012 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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