Aarhus University Seal

Forecasting shifts in habitat suitability of three marine predators suggests a rapid decline in inter-specific overlap under future climate change

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Understanding how environmental and climate change can alter habitat overlap of marine predators has great value for the management and conservation of marine ecosystems. Here, we estimated spatiotemporal changes in habitat suitability and inter-specific overlap among three marine predators: Baltic gray seals (Halichoerus grypus), harbor seals (Phoca vitulina), and harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) under contemporary and future conditions. Location data (>200 tagged individuals) were collected in the southwestern region of the Baltic Sea; one of the fastest-warming semi-enclosed seas in the world. We used the maximum entropy (MaxEnt) algorithm to estimate changes in total area size and overlap of species-specific habitat suitability between 1997–2020 and 2091–2100. Predictor variables included environmental and climate-sensitive oceanographic conditions in the area. Sea-level rise, sea surface temperature, and salinity data were taken from representative concentration pathways [RCPs] scenarios 6.0 and 8.5 to forecast potential climate change effects. Model output suggested that habitat suitability of Baltic gray seals will decline over space and time, driven by changes in sea surface salinity and a loss of currently available haulout sites following sea-level rise in the future. A similar, although weaker, effect was observed for harbor seals, while suitability of habitat for harbor porpoises was predicted to increase slightly over space and time. Inter-specific overlap in highly suitable habitats was also predicted to increase slightly under RCP scenario 6.0 when compared to contemporary conditions, but to disappear under RCP scenario 8.5. Our study suggests that marine predators in the southwestern Baltic Sea may respond differently to future climatic conditions, leading to divergent shifts in habitat suitability that are likely to decrease inter-specific overlap over time and space. We conclude that climate change can lead to a marked redistribution of area use by marine predators in the region, which may influence local food-web dynamics and ecosystem functioning.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere9083
JournalEcology and Evolution
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022

    Research areas

  • BALTIC SEA, Baltic Sea, GREY SEAL, KATTEGAT, MaxEnt, PREDICTION, SEALS PHOCA-VITULINA, SELECTION, climate change, inter-specific range overlap, marine mammals, species distribution models

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