Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.)

Degree Granting Department

Marine Science

Major Professor

Christopher Stallings, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ernst Peebles, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Mike Tringali, Ph.D.


Stable isotope analysis, genetic tagging, ontogenetic shift, site fidelity, basal resource use, growth


Fish can have complex life histories and use multiple habitats and resources throughout their life span. Consequently, their life histories are often poorly understood. The Atlantic Tarpon, Megalops atlanticus, is a large, typically migratory, elopomorph fish that is both ecologically and economically important. Atlantic Tarpon are under threat due to regional exploitation, loss of natal and juvenile habitat, poor water management, and offshore impacts. In addition, little is known about its lifelong habitat and resource use. In Chapter 1, I used stable isotope analysis of eye lens δ13C and δ15N values to explore patterns in trophic history and habitat use of 16 Atlantic Tarpon from West-Central Florida and Louisiana. The stable isotope chronologies showed 100% use of backcountry habitats during the early life history and an ontogenetic habitat shift to coastal waters at approximately 10 years of age and 140 cm total length. During the coastal phase Atlantic Tarpon displayed among-individual variability and within-individual consistency in basal resource use. In Chapter 2, mark-recapture data from a multi-year genetic tagging program were used to investigate survival and growth rates, ontogenetic habitat use, and migration of juvenile Atlantic Tarpon in Florida. The study found that juvenile Atlantic Tarpon take approximately 10 years to reach the length associated with maturity, and appear to have a high survival rate (~80%), possibly due to effective use of habitats with reduced competition and predation. Atlantic Tarpon underwent several ontogenetic habitat shifts throughout the juvenile phase. In addition, juvenile Atlantic Tarpon did not migrate long distances but instead showed fidelity to systems wherein only short movements were needed to shift habitat types. This work serves to fill critical gaps in our knowledge of Atlantic Tarpon life history and may aid in better management and conservation of the species.

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