Habitat modeling (also known as e.g. habitat suitability modeling, species distribution modeling, predictive habitat modeling or environmental niche modeling etc.) is a recent and powerful development to enhance our sparse knowledge about the ecology and distribution of marine mammals in polar waters.
Habitat modeling allows inferring hypothetical geographic species' distributions by relating the presence (or absence) of a species with environmental variables (i.e. sea surface temperature, water depth, food availability). This way it is possible to predict the environmental variables that are suitable for marine mammal species. The achieved habitat suitability is then projected onto geographic space to generate temporally resolved spatial prediction maps.
Data used in marine mammal HSM usually come from surveying the ocean allying a methodology called line transect survey but newest developments allow the use of alternative data sources like opportunistic visual sightings, tagging data and acoustic data. Invaluable improvements are options for proper line transect surveys in often harsh polar conditions are scarse, costly and time and personnel intensive.
Distribution modeling can be applied to / implemented in:
- exploring changes in species distribution in response to climate change
- supporting conservation management e.g. marine protected area (MPA) planning
- distribution and use of habitat / improvement of abundance estimates
- evaluation of possible impacts of anthropogenic activities