Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS) gain increasing attention and importance as a tool in marine ecology. So far, studies were largely limited to morphological studies, e.g. for the creation of digital libraries. Here, the utility of MRI and MRS for ecologists is tested and exemplified using formalin preserved samples of the Antarctic silverfish, Pleuragramma antarctica. As this species lacks a swim bladder, buoyancy is attained by the deposition of large amounts of lipids that are mainly stored in subcutaneous and intermuscular lipid sacs. In this study MRI and MRS are not only used to study internal morphology, but additionally to investigate functional morphology and to measure parameters of high ecological interest. The data are compared with literature data obtained by means of traditional ecological methods.
The results from this study show that MR scans are not only an alternative to histological sections (as shown before), but even allow the visualization of particular features in delicate soft tissues, such as Pleuragramma's lipid sacs. 3D rendering techniques proved to be a useful tool to study organ volumes and lipid content, which usually requires laborious chemical lipid extraction and analysis. Moreover, the application of MRS even allows for an analysis of lipids and fatty acids within lipid sacs, which wouldn't be possible using destructive methods. MRI and MRS, in particular when used in combination, have the capacity to provide useful data on parameters of high ecological relevance and thus have proven to be a highly valuable addition, if not alternative, to the classical methods.