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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 720:161-174 (2023)  -  DOI:

Distribution and habitat use modelling from satellite tracking data of humpback whales in Brazil agrees with shipboard survey data modelling

Guilherme A. Bortolotto1,2,3,*, Alexandre N. Zerbini3,4,5,6, Len Thomas2, Artur Andriolo3,6, Philip S. Hammond1,2

1Sea Mammal Research Unit & Scottish Oceans Institute, University of St Andrews, St Andrews KY16 8LB, UK
2Centre for Research into Ecological and Environment Modelling, University of St Andrews, St Andrews KY16 9LZ, UK
3Instituto Aqualie, Juiz de Fora 36036-330, MG, Brazil
4Cooperative Institute for Climate, Ocean and Ecosystem Studies, University of Washington & Marine Mammal Laboratory, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, Seattle, WA 98115, USA
5Marine Ecology and Telemetry Research, Seabeck, WA 98380, USA
6Laboratório de Ecologia Comportamental e Bioacústica, Programa de Pós-graduação em Biodiversidade e Conservação da Natureza, Universidade Federal de Juiz de Fora, Juiz de Fora 36036-900, MG, Brazil
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Statistical modelling of animal distributions has been widely applied to explain how mobile species use their habitats. The distribution of and habitat use by humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae off the eastern coast of Brazil have previously been investigated by modelling visual survey data. Here, we modelled distribution in their breeding range using individual tracking data to compare ecological inferences with those from previous models from line transect data. A generalised estimating equation framework was used to model the tracking data and pseudo-absences as functions of spatial covariates. Covariates considered were latitude and longitude, sea surface temperature (SST), current and wind speeds near the surface, distances to shelf-break and the coast, sea bottom depth and slope, and a factor variable representing ‘shelter’. Two modelling exercises were developed: a habitat use model (HUM) and a distribution model (DIM). Covariates retained in the selected HUM were SST, distance to coast and shelf-break, current and wind speeds and shelter. Covariates retained in the selected DIM were latitude/longitude, current speed and distances to shelf-break and coast. The modelled relationships between whale occurrence and environmental covariates using tracking data were similar to those using line transect data. Distribution maps were also similar, supporting higher densities around the Abrolhos Archipelago and to its south. We showed that habitat use and distribution of this population in the area could be similarly inferred by modelling either line transect or tracking data. Using these 2 approaches in conjunction can strengthen the understanding of important ecological aspects of animal populations.

KEY WORDS: Megaptera novaeangliae · Ecology · Conservation · Marine mammals · Population recovery

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Cite this article as: Bortolotto GA, Zerbini AN, Thomas L, Andriolo A, Hammond PS (2023) Distribution and habitat use modelling from satellite tracking data of humpback whales in Brazil agrees with shipboard survey data modelling. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 720:161-174.

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