The Fish Ecology Lab

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to the Fish Ecology Laboratory at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.  Our laboratory studies animal movements in ocean ecosystems.  We use stable isotope geochemistry to track dispersal and migration of individuals in marine environments over a range of spatial and temporal scales.  Satellite archival and acoustic tagging provide additional and independent data that is used to verify our geochemical tracer results and to generate new hypotheses on animal movements.  By quantifying and eventually modeling the influence of movement on marine populations we hope to provide decision makers with a scientific basis for the conservation and sustainable management of ocean ecosystems.

Our research

A primary focus in our research can be broadly considered ecogeochemistry – the application of isotope and trace element geochemistry to fundamental questions in ecology.  We are developing new transgenerational mass marking approaches and DNA parentage analyses.  Ultimately we hope to generate empirical estimates of population connectivity that will be used to validate coupled bio-physical models of larval dispersal in coral reef ecosystems.  We use geochemical signatures in the otoliths (or “ear stones”) of marine and anadromous fishes as natural tags of natal origins.  By analyzing trace element and stable isotope concentrations in the cores of adult otoliths, and comparing these with ground-truthed signatures from otoliths of larvae collected before dispersing from natal spawning locations, we can determine natal origins and population affinities of individual fish.  We are using a combination of pop-up satellite archival transmitting (PSAT) tags and isotope geochemistry of vertebrae to examine migration connectivity of basking sharks in the Atlantic Ocean and whale sharks in the Red Sea.  Finally, we are using these same isotope geochemistry approaches to examine nutrient flow in coral reef food webs.

Where we work

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is based in the small village of Woods Hole, Massachusetts, on the southwest end of Cape Cod.  There are several other scientific organizations with labs in Woods Hole, including the Marine Biological Laboratory, the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NOAA/NMFS), the Woods Hole Research Center, and the U.S. Geological Survey.  Woods Hole therefore has a remarkably vibrant scientific community in which students and post-doctoral researchers are able to immerse themselves during their studies here.

Research in the Fish Ecology Lab takes us to some remarkable locations around the world.  Currently we have active projects in the Azores, the Red Sea, Papua New Guinea and the Phoenix Islands Protected Area in Kiribati.


Simon R Thorrold

Biology Department
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA
1 508 2893366

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