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Non-lethal sampling of walleye for stable isotope analysis: a comparison of three tissues


Mark J. Fincel, South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, 20641 SD HWY 1806, Ft. Pierre, SD 57532, USA (e-mail:


Abstract  Stable isotope analysis of fishes is often performed using muscle or organ tissues that require sacrificing animals. Non-lethal sampling provides an alternative for evaluating isotopic composition for species of concern or individuals of exceptional value. Stable isotope values of white muscle (lethal) were compared with those from fins and scales (non-lethal) in walleye, Sander vitreus (Mitchill), from multiple systems, size classes and across a range of isotopic values. Isotopic variability was also compared among populations to determine the potential of non-lethal tissues for diet-variability analyses. Muscle-derived isotope values were enriched compared with fins and depleted relative to scales. A split-sample validation technique and linear regression found that isotopic composition of walleye fins and scales was significantly related to that in muscle tissue for both δ13C and δ15N (r= 0.79–0.93). However, isotopic variability was significantly different between tissue types in two of six populations for δ15N and three of six populations for δ13C. Although species and population specific, these findings indicate that isotopic measures obtained from non-lethal tissues are indicative of those obtained from muscle.