Otolith “spawning zones” across multiple Atlantic cod populations: Do they accurately record maturity and spawning?
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionPLOS ONE. 2021, 16 (9), . 10.1371/journal.pone.0257218
Specific changes identified in the otolith macrostructure of Northeast Arctic cod as “spawning zones” are presumed to represent spawning events, but recent experimental studies have challenged this relationship. Because these zones are not routinely recorded outside of Norway, otoliths from multiple Atlantic cod populations with different life history and environmental traits were first examined to see if spawning zones could be identified as a general characteristic of cod. Then, a large archival collection of cod otoliths was used to investigate temporal changes in the occurrence of spawning zones and test for correlations between maturity at age derived from otolith spawning zones and gonad maturity stages. This study shows that spawning zones likely are a universal trait of Atlantic cod and not limited to certain environments or migratory behaviors as previously proposed. Maturity at age derived from spawning zone data showed trends consistent with those from gonad examinations. However, spawning zones appear to form with a one- or two-year lag with sexual maturity, which is suspected to reflect a stabilizing of energy partitioning after the first spawning events. Our results illustrate the potential for use of spawning zones, for example in species or populations with limited available maturity data, and highlights the need for addressing the physiological processes behind their formation.