McComas, Kimberly, Cramer, Katie L., O'Dea, Aaron, Rodriguez, Felix, and Norris, Richard D. 2016. [Poster] A Modern Fish Tooth Reference Collection to Help Track Historical Change in Caribbean Reef Fish Communities from Tooth Fossils Found in Reef Sediments. Given at ICRS, June 6, 2016.
Centuries of overfishing along with more recent habitat degradation have altered Caribbean reef fish communities and caused a loss of 50-80% of corals since the 1980s. The lack of an ecological baseline for Caribbean reef ecosystems, including data on reef fish abundance and composition, prevents an understanding of the full extent and causes of the recent Caribbean reef collapse. Fossil records of fish teeth are abundant in reef sediments and can provide a quantitative reconstruction of changes in reef fish communities over periods of both low and high human impact. To track changes in reef fish assemblages and demonstrate the variety of tooth morphotypes found within the ichthyolith record, we have constructed the first fish tooth reference collection for modern Caribbean reef fishes. From 375 specimens amassed from museum collections in the US and fish markets and field collections in Panama, totaling 81 unique families and 256 unique species, we developed a photographic reference collection via dissection and photography of oral and pharyngeal jaws and teeth. The collection, available at http:// ichthyolith.ucsd.edu/, highlights the noticeably small tooth sizes of almost all species regardless of body size and diet. This collection has been utilized to classify abundant fossil teeth from reef matrix cores from Caribbean Panama to family level, enabling us to track changes in ecologically important groups such as parrotfish from the prehistorical period to the present.