Comparing otolith shape descriptors for population structure inferences in a small pelagic fish, the European sardine Sardina pilchardus (Walbaum, 1792)

J Fish Biol. 2023 May;102(5):1219-1236. doi: 10.1111/jfb.15369. Epub 2023 Mar 22.


Otolith shape analysis has been one of the most used approaches to study population structure in the past decades. Currently, two sets of shape descriptors are used to perform otolith shape analysis, namely, Elliptic Fourier descriptor (EFd), which focuses on the overall otolith shape differences, and Discrete Wavelet descriptor (DWd), which is sensible to local differences along the otolith contour. Here, the authors conducted a comparative analysis of the performance of both the descriptors in reconstructing the population structure and connectivity patterns in a small pelagic fish species with a wide geographical distribution and fast growth rate, the European sardine Sardina pilchardus (Walbaum, 1792), for the first time. A combination of each otolith shape descriptor and shape indices was explored using multivariate statistical methods. The two otolith shape descriptors showed similar, although limited, overall classification success associated with the population dynamic characteristics of the species. Both descriptors point to migration among adjacent areas, such as northern Atlantic locations, eastern Mediterranean and even across well-defined physical obstacles, such as the Strait of Gibraltar, among Atlantic and western Mediterranean locations. Both descriptors supported the division of the populations of Mediterranean waters into three main groups but slightly differed in the group limits of the Atlantic waters. A comparison of the present results with those from previous otolith shape analysis studies using EFd on a decadal time scale revealed differences in the population structure and connectivity patterns compared to the earlier period. These differences not only may be attributed to changes in environmental variables leading to changes in population dynamics but can also be the result of the sardine biomass sharp decrease that occurred in the past decade.

Keywords: Discrete Wavelet descriptor; Elliptic Fourier descriptor; Sagittae; connectivity; shape indices; small pelagic fish.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomass
  • Fishes*
  • Otolithic Membrane*
  • Population Dynamics
  • Seafood