Parasites as biological tags of fish stocks: a meta-analysis of their discriminatory power

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The use of parasites as biological tags to discriminate among marine fish stocks has become a widely accepted method in fisheries management. Here, we first link this approach to its unstated ecological foundation, the decay in the similarity of the species composition of assemblages as a function of increasing distance between them, a phenomenon almost universal in nature. We explain how distance decay of similarity can influence the use of parasites as biological tags. Then, we perform a meta-analysis of 61 uses of parasites as tags of marine fish populations in multivariate discriminant analyses, obtained from 29 articles. Our main finding is that across all studies, the observed overall probability of correct classification offish based on parasite data was about 71%. This corresponds to a two-fold improvement over the rate of correct classification expected by chance alone, and the average effect size (Zr = 0·463) computed from the original values was also indicative of a medium-to-large effect. However, none of the moderator variables included in the meta-analysis had a significant effect on the proportion of correct classification; these moderators included the total number of fish sampled, the number of parasite species used in the discriminant analysis, the number of localities from which fish were sampled, the minimum and maximum distance between any pair of sampling localities, etc. Therefore, there are no clear-cut situations in which the use of parasites as tags is more useful than others. Finally, we provide recommendations for the future usage of parasites as tags for stock discrimination, to ensure that future applications of the method achieve statistical rigour and a high discriminatory power.

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