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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13085

Ecological niche modelling of cold-water corals in the Southern Ocean (N Antarctic), present distribution and future projections due to temperature changes

Kerstin Jerosch*, Safa Chaabani, Pilar Casado-Amezua, Hendrik Pehlke, Lukas Weber, Irene Martínez-Baraldés, Pablo J. López-González

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Urgent necessity to understand the effect of climatic change on scleractinian cold-water coral (CWC) ecosystems arises from increasing ocean warming and acidification over the last decades. Here, presence–absence records of 12 scleractinian CWC species from research expeditions and the literature were compiled and merged with model-generated pseudo-absence data and 14 environmental variables. The best results of 9 species distribution models (SDM) were combined to an ensemble habitat suitability model for CWCs in the northern Southern Ocean (Weddell Sea and Antarctic Peninsula) by means of the open-source R package ‘biomod2’. Furthermore, 2 future scenarios of increasing bottom sea temperature were used to investigate the spatial response of scleractinians to temperature change. The resulting (current scenario) potential ecological niches were evaluated with good to excellent statistical measures. The results predict that present areas of highest probability of CWC occurrence are around the Antarctic Peninsula, South Orkney Islands and Queen Maud Land, with preference to geomorphic features such as seamounts. The distribution of CWC habitats is mainly driven by distance to coast and ice shelves, bathymetry, benthic calcium carbonate, as well as temperature. Under warming conditions, CWCs are predicted to expand their distribution range by 6 and 10% in 2037 and 2150, respectively, compared to present distribution. The future models using increased bottom temperature revealed a stable CWC distribution for most parts of the study area. However, habitat shifts are expected to the Filchner Trough region, the adjacent continental shelves, as well as to the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula.