Marine Biology

, 163:71 | Cite as

Reconstructing climate–growth relations from the teeth of a marine mammal

  • Talia A. Wittmann
  • Christopher Izzo
  • Zoë A. Doubleday
  • Jane McKenzie
  • Steven Delean
  • Bronwyn M. GillandersEmail author
Original paper


Sclerochronological analysis of growth increment patterns (growth layer groups; GLG) in marine mammal teeth offers a unique opportunity to reconstruct climate–growth relations of marine mammal populations over long time series. We developed sclerochronologies from GLG width measures in the cementum of male and female New Zealand fur seal (Arctocephalus forsteri) post-canine teeth collected from southern Australia. Tooth growth chronologies spanned 15 years and encompassed the period from 1987 to 2001. We also developed a rigorous analytical framework for assessing species suitability for sclerochronological analyses. Suitability assessments indicated that GLG clarity and relative width measures were variable among regions within individual teeth, and therefore, measurements were standardised to a consistent tissue type. Deposition of cementum in post-canine teeth was also correlated with body size, suggesting tooth growth measures were a suitable proxy of somatic growth. Inter-annual patterns of tooth growth were negatively correlated with mean annual sea surface temperature and the Southern Oscillation Index (both lagged by 1 year), but the strength of the relationships differed between the sexes. These results suggest both local- and regional-scale physical processes influence variations in growth and provide the first evidence of an environmental effect on cementum growth in a marine mammal. This study demonstrates the underutilised potential of marine mammal teeth to provide extended time series of growth, critical information which facilitates predictions of future ecological response to environmental change.


Marine Mammal Southern Oscillation Index Southern Annular Mode Climate Predictor Indian Ocean Subtropical Dipole 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We would like to thank the many field assistants and National Parks staff who helped with the original field study and the collection of teeth from live animals. Collection of teeth was approved by the Animal Ethics Committees at La Trobe University and the South Australian Department for Environment and Heritage (Permit Number Z24347) and funded by the Sea World Research and Rescue Foundation, Holsworth Wildlife Research Fund and South Australian National Parks and Wildlife Council Wildlife Conservation Fund. We also thank Gretchen Grammer, Chris Woodrow, the Playford Memorial Trust Inc. (Honours Scholarship to TW), the University of Adelaide (The David Murray Scholarship in Science to TW) and the Australian Research Council (FT100100767, DP110100716, LP120100228 to BMG).

Supplementary material

227_2016_2846_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (956 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 956 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Southern Seas Ecology Laboratories, School of Biological SciencesThe University of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  2. 2.SemaphoreAustralia
  3. 3.School of Biological SciencesThe University of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia

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