February 1st to 5th 2016
Olhão, Portugal
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Habitat suitability modelling of a vulnerable gorgonian in the Mediterranean and Eastern Atlantic

Scientific Exhibition
Habitat Loss and Ocean Noise
Thursday, February 4, 2016 -
17:30 to 19:30

Boavida, J. 1 Silva, I. 2 Assis, J. 3 Serrão, E.A. 4

1Centre of Marine Sciences (CCMAR), University of Algarve, Campus de Gambelas, 8005-139 Faro, Portugal
2University of Algarve
3Centre of Marine Sciences (CCMAR), University of Algarve, Campus de Gambelas, 8005-139 Faro, Portugal
4Centre of Marine Sciences (CCMAR), University of Algarve, Campus de Gambelas, 8005-139 Faro, Portugal

Much is still unknown about the factors controlling the distribution of circalittoral octocorals (30-200 m depth). The scarcity of data about these relatively deep assemblages has often left them out of marine spatial planning, including marine protected areas. Here we used Ecological Niche Modeling relating relevant environmental variables and the most (to date) comprehensive presence data set to assess the potential suitable habitat of an important structuring species, Paramuricea clavata, along its global distribution (the Mediterranean and adjacent Atlantic). The model accurately identifies all known locations of P. clavata and includes previously unknown and unreported occurrence sites along the coasts of Portugal and Africa, including offshore seamounts. P. clavata was found to occupy a niche well defined by temperature (12.3 to 26.5 ºC) and strong dependence on non-horizontal slope, a proxy for sediment-free rock. The species does not occur under extreme nutrient levels. The predicted distribution strengthens historical and recent occurrence information for the northern Mediterranean coastline, and reveals suitable areas at depths down to 200 m which may act as refugia during extreme temperature events. New habitat areas predicted along the Algerian coast, Alboran Sea and on the Atlantic coasts between Morocco and southwest Iberia are worth investigating. Surveys joining expert knowledge and target areas from our predictive modeling may lead to discoveries of new or under-represented P. clavata sites and identify areas of conservation concern. Our study also highlights the need for increased access to higher resolution environmental datasets and species distributional records to resolve local-scale phenomena.
keywords: 
Paramuricea clavata; Atlantic Ocean; circalittoral rocky reefs; Habitat suitability mapping; Ecological niche modeling

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