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The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

Research project: Carbon isotopes in otoliths: a new palaeoecological proxy?

Currently Active: 

Otoliths, which are calcified sensory ear bones of teleost fish, are grown incrementally over a fish's life creating banding patterns (known as annuli) storing chemical elements.  The isotopic composition of carbon within the otolith is a mixture of dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) from the ambient water column and metabolic carbon (derived via diet). 

Why explore this?

Metabolism is directly linked to growth and reproduction, which makes this measurement invaluable to fisheries management, both wild and aquaculture:

  • Insights into life histories of individual species and populations.
  • Understand physiology in a changing environment due to direct and indirect anthropogenic influences.
  • A species kept in conditions that achieves their optimum metabolic rate maximises productivity.
  • Trophic demands are estimated using energy budget calculations.
(Source: C Longmore)
A complete otolith

Scientific Aims

  • To develop a retrospective proxy of metabolic rate (oxygen consumption) which links to the isotopic composition of teleost otoliths.
  • Proxy to be utilised to interpret life histories of teleost from the field and fossil otolith collections.
  • To use the proxy to explore the evolution of heterothermy in fish.
  • Investigate metabolic evolution of individual extant species in differing environments.
  • Explore physiological diversity in modern and fossil ecosystems.
A section of otolith which reveals the annull (banding pattern) (Source: C Longmore)
A section of otolith


PhD student Diana Shores is funded via NERC to investigate this project title.

Supervisors: Dr C. Trueman, Dr M. Friedman, Dr I.Harding.

Related Project

This project is linked into a major cross-institutional project ‘Co-evolution of Life and the Planet'. 

Key Contacts

Miss Diana Shores (Postgraduate Research Student)

Dr. Clive Trueman (Supervisor)

PhDs and Other Opportunities


Associated research themes

Geochemical Ecology

Past Present and Future Environmental Change

Related research groups

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