Validation of yellowedge grouper, Epinephelus flavolimbatus, age using nuclear bomb-produced radiocarbon

Abstract

Age validation and estimates of longevity of yellowedge grouper (Epinephelus flavolimbatus) from the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) are needed to inform fishery management decisions. Yellowedge grouper sagittal otoliths (n = 100) were collected, aged using conventional means, and cores were submitted for radiocarbon (14C) measurement. Radiocarbon values of yellowedge grouper otoliths were compared to established radiocarbon chronologies in the region to validate the age and ageing methodology of this species. The yellowedge grouper chronology displayed a similar sigmoidal trend as previously published chronologies. In addition to the core analysis, multiple areas on otolith sections from eight specimens were analyzed for Δ14C to validate age estimates for fish born prior to the 14C increase. Our results indicate that yellowedge grouper live longer than previously reported (minimum of 40 years based on radiocarbon measurements). The validated ageing methodology supported an estimated maximum longevity of 85 years and established that yellowedge grouper have the longest lifespan currently known for any species of grouper in the GOM. Results also indicate a depth-age interaction in that material extracted from adult otolith sections assigned to post-bomb dates exhibited lower Δ14C values than cores (juvenile material) assigned to the same post-bomb dates. This finding is likely explained by lower 14C levels reported from water masses at deeper depths (>100 m) which are inhabited by adults.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank the National Ocean Sciences Accelerator Mass Spectrometry facility staff, especially Ann McNichol, Kathy Elder, Kari Paro and Chris Weidman, for scientific advice and use of their digital microsampler. We would also like to thank Jan Welker, James Warren and David Bonderer for otolith preparation and sample removal. Ellen Druffel and Scott Baker, Jr. provided scientific advice and raw data for corals and red snapper, respectively, which were vital for the comparison of 14C curves. Owen Hamel provided executable files and details necessary to run the deterministic models. We would also like to thank Bruce Comyns and three anonymous reviewers for comments which resulted in significant improvements to this manuscript. This study was supported in part by funds from the National Marine Fisheries Service Marine Fisheries Initiative (MARFIN) project # 02MFIH09. The statements, findings, conclusions and recommendations are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Commerce or NOAA or any of its sub-agencies. Use of brand names within this study should not be considered an endorsement of the product. Brand names are included solely for informational purposes, and their inclusion does not imply an agency endorsement.

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Correspondence to Melissa Cook.

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Cook, M., Fitzhugh, G.R. & Franks, J.S. Validation of yellowedge grouper, Epinephelus flavolimbatus, age using nuclear bomb-produced radiocarbon. Environ Biol Fish 86, 461–472 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10641-009-9536-x

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Keywords

  • Age determination
  • Age validation
  • Radiocarbon analysis
  • Yellowedge grouper
  • Gulf of Mexico
  • Longevity