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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 696:151-167 (2022)  -  DOI:

Habitat selection and abundance of West Indian manatees Trichechus manatus at the margins of their expanding range

Carl S. Cloyed1,2,*, Elizabeth E. Hieb1, Kayla P. DaCosta1,2, Monica Ross3, Ruth H. Carmichael1,2

1Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Dauphin Island, AL 36528, USA
2School of Marine and Environmental Sciences, University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL 36688, USA
3Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, Clearwater, FL 33767, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Habitat selection and abundances at range margins during geographic expansion may influence movement into new areas, shaping the trajectory of climate-driven changes in species distribution. The West Indian manatee is an ideal species to study how habitat selection influences range expansion because its presence has rapidly increased during the past 2 decades in the northern Gulf of Mexico (nGoM), a region outside its historical range. We estimated the habitat selection and abundances of manatees in coastal Alabama waters along the nGoM coast using resource selection functions and N-mixture models, respectively. Warm season (May-Nov) manatee abundances were estimated at 25 and 34 manatees at any given time in coastal Alabama waters in 2010 and 2019, respectively. Manatees primarily used the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta and Dog River areas, selecting nearshore shallow water habitats proximate to submerged aquatic vegetation. Distance to boat ramps and human population density had stronger effects on opportunistic sighting data but remained important for tagged data, indicating that manatee habitat selection overlapped with humans. Temperature strongly predicted manatee sightings; most sightings occurred when temperatures were >20°C. Our data indicate that the key interacting factors likely to moderate manatee range expansion, and therefore be important to management and conservation of this species, include increased sea temperature, availability of nearshore habitat with submerged aquatic vegetation, and regional manatee population dynamics. As environmental conditions at the range margins continue to become more favorable to manatees and areas within the range core decline in quality, areas at the range margins may become increasingly important.

KEY WORDS: Climate change · Habitat selection · Range shift · Tropicalization · Biotelemetry · Citizen science data · N-mixture models · Northern Gulf of Mexico

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Cite this article as: Cloyed CS, Hieb EE, DaCosta KP, Ross M, Carmichael RH (2022) Habitat selection and abundance of West Indian manatees Trichechus manatus at the margins of their expanding range. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 696:151-167.

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