ESR 22:191-203 (2013)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00558

AS WE SEE IT
Beyond correlation: integrating environmentally and behaviourally mediated processes in models of marine mammal distributions

Daniel M. Palacios1,6,*, Mark F. Baumgartner2, Kristin L. Laidre3, Edward J. Gregr4,5 

1Environmental Research Division, NOAA/NMFS/Southwest Fisheries Science Center, 1352 Lighthouse Avenue, Pacific Grove, California 93950, USA
2Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Biology Department, 266 Woods Hole Road, Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02543, USA
3Polar Science Center, Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington, 1013 NE 40th Street, Seattle, Washington 98105, USA
4SciTech Environmental Consulting. 2136 Napier Street, Vancouver, British Columbia V5L 2N9, Canada
5Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability, University of British Columbia, 2202 Main Mall, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z4, Canada
6Present address: Marine Mammal Institute, Hatfield Marine Science Center, Oregon State University, 2030 SE Marine Science Drive, Newport, Oregon 97365, USA

ABSTRACT: Marine species distribution modeling has seen explosive growth in recent years, and the Endangered Species Research Theme Section entitled ‘Beyond marine mammal habitat modeling: applications for ecology and conservation’ demonstrates that the field of marine mammalogy has been no exception. For the past decade, marine mammal ecologists have been developing habitat models with increasing proficiency and sophistication. However, these efforts have largely focused on correlative analyses of observed species-environment associations, which often have low explanatory power due to the absence of critical, but unaccounted for processes that are important drivers of animal distributions. Here we provide an overview of these processes, advocate for directed studies (e.g. tagging, prey sampling, focal follows, physiological assessment) to address how the processes influence species’ distributions, and challenge the modeling community to incorporate these results into their efforts. We also identify a progression of modeling stages from correlative to confirmatory to mechanistic that should lead us to formulate increasingly robust and accurate predictions of species distributions rooted in greater ecological understanding. Given the on-going risks to marine mammals from human activities and climate change, such models are needed for conservation and management now more than ever.


KEY WORDS: Marine mammals · Species distribution · Modeling · Habitat suitability · Species-environment associations · Correlative · Mechanistic · Hierarchical


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Cite this article as: Palacios DM, Baumgartner MF, Laidre KL, Gregr EJ (2013) Beyond correlation: integrating environmentally and behaviourally mediated processes in models of marine mammal distributions. Endang Species Res 22:191-203. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00558

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