, Volume 134, Issue 1, pp 29-41

Microstructure of settlement-marks in the otoliths of tropical reef fishes

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The morphology and ultrastructure of the otolith settlement-mark was examined in 44 tropical reef-fish species spanning nine families. A classification scheme based on similar otolith characteristics is presented. Three major categories are identified based on changes in increment width and optical qualities of the settlement-mark. Of the 44 species examined, 39 possessed “abrupt” settlement-marks (Type I) characterised by a rapid decrease in increment width (up to 50% reduction) over settlement. Type I settlement-marks were found in all nine families examined. The 39 species spanned the whole range of possible larval durations (Pomacentrus moluccensis, 15 d ± 0 SE; Naso hexacanthus, 91.2 d ± 2.97 SE). Four of the 44 species possessed “zonal” settlement-marks (Type II), featuring a band of increments that are wider than pre-settlement increments. Species in this category are the labrids Corisaygula, Thalassoma bifasciatum, T. lunare and an unidentified acanthurid (Acanthurus sp. 2). One species of acanthurid (N. brevirostris) possessed a “gradual” settlement-mark (Type III), manifest as a gradual decrease in increment width during the settlement period. A possible fourth type was identified from the literature. Gnatholepis thompsoni and Coryphopterus glaucofraenum possessed a settlement-mark with increment widths that increased post-settlement. Available data suggest a poor relationship between the structure of the settlement-mark and the magnitude of metamorphosis (previously reported as internal and external morphological change). Evidence suggests that the increment profile over early development and the increment transitions associated with the settlement event are taxon-specific and may enable late-larval stage fishes to be identified to species level.

Received: 21 May 1997 / Accepted: 3 February 1999