MEPS 316:285-310 (2006)  -  doi:10.3354/meps316285

Mapping world-wide distributions of marine mammal species using a relative environmental suitability (RES) model

K. Kaschner1,2,3,*, R. Watson1, A. W. Trites2, D. Pauly1

1Sea Around Us Project, Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia, 2259 Lower Mall, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z4, Canada
2Marine Mammal Research Unit, Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia, Hut B-3, 6248 Biological Sciences Road, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z4, Canada
3Forschungs- und Technologiezentrum Westküste, Hafentörn, 25761 Büsum, Germany

ABSTRACT: The lack of comprehensive sighting data sets precludes the application of standard habitat suitability modeling approaches to predict distributions of the majority of marine mammal species on very large scales. As an alternative, we developed an ecological niche model to map global distributions of 115 cetacean and pinniped species living in the marine environment using more readily available expert knowledge about habitat usage. We started by assigning each species to broad-scale niche categories with respect to depth, sea-surface temperature, and ice edge association based on synopses of published information. Within a global information system framework and a global grid of 0.5° latitude/longitude cell dimensions, we then generated an index of the relative environmental suitability (RES) of each cell for a given species by relating known habitat usage to local environmental conditions. RES predictions closely matched published maximum ranges for most species, thus representing useful, more objective alternatives to existing sketched distributional outlines. In addition, raster-based predictions provided detailed information about heterogeneous patterns of potentially suitable habitat for species throughout their range. We tested RES model outputs for 11 species (northern fur seal, harbor porpoise, sperm whale, killer whale, hourglass dolphin, fin whale, humpback whale, blue whale, Antarctic minke, and dwarf minke whales) from a broad taxonomic and geographic range, using data from dedicated surveys. Observed encounter rates and species-specific predicted environmental suitability were significantly and positively correlated for all but 1 species. In comparison, encounter rates were correlated with <1% of 1000 simulated random data sets for all but 2 species. Mapping of large-scale marine mammal distributions using this environmental envelope model is helpful for evaluating current assumptions and knowledge about species’ occurrences, especially for data-poor species. Moreover, RES modeling can help to focus research efforts on smaller geographic scales and usefully supplement other, statistical, habitat suitability models.

KEY WORDS: Habitat suitability modeling · Marine mammals · Global · GIS · Relative environ-mental suitability · Niche model · Distribution

Full text in pdf format