Representation of fish communities by scale sub-fossils in shallow lakes: Implications for inferring percid-cyprinid shifts

T. A. Davidson, C. D. Sayer, M. R. Perrow, M. L. Tomlinson

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The palaeoecological potential of fish scales was assessed by comparing contemporary population data with scale remains obtained from littoral (n = 10) and open water (n = 10) surface sediment samples in two English shallow lakes, Selbrigg Pond and Cockshoot Broad. Scales and/or scale fragments were present, in low numbers (<20 per 100 cm3 wet sediment) in 34 of 40 sediment samples. In accordance with fish population data, higher densities of scale remains were found in Selbrigg compared to Cockshoot, and in littoral compared to open water samples. Taxonomic difficulties, exacerbated by scale fragmentation, made it impossible to assign the majority of remains to individual species. Most remains could, however, be placed into one of two groups: (i) percids – represented by both scales and scale fragments; and (ii) cyprinids – largely represented by scale fragments. To allow comparison of fish population and sedimentary scale data, both were converted to percentages of the aggregate percid–cyprinid total. Whole scales recovered were almost exclusively percid (45 of 48), thus bore little resemblance to the contemporary fish data. Nevertheless, percentages of scale fragments (Selbrigg: 34 and 66%; Cockshoot: 13 and 87% percid and cyprinid, respectively) and of whole scales and fragments combined (Selbrigg: 54 and 46%; Cockshoot: 46 and 54% percid and cyprinid, respectively) reflected the presence of the numerically dominant fish groups and the broad inter-site differences in their relative abundance (Selbrigg: 36 and 64%; Cockshoot: 10 and 90% percid and cyprinid, respectively). A running mean of scales per sediment volume indicated that some 400 cm3 of sediment was required to accurately characterise the remains present. This study suggests that, with the appropriate methodological considerations (e.g., collection of large sediment samples), fish scale remains may be used to determine the past presence–absence and relative abundance of percid and cyprinid species. As such, this technique may be a valuable supplementary tool for establishing longer-term changes in the fish communities of shallow lakes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)441-449
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Paleolimnology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2003

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