Abiotic factors and species distribution modelling

Abiotic factors and species distribution modelling

Largest baleen whale mass mortality during strong El Niño event is likely related to harmful toxic algal bloom

“Abiotic key factors influencing species composition in Chilean Patagonian fjords and their usefulness as proxies for species distribution models, habitat mapping and predicting patterns in benthic assemblages.”

Within the project we study the diversity-rich hard-bottom habitats and abiotic factors influencing them. We aim to detect the most relevant proxies for species distribution models, habitat mapping and predicting patterns in benthic assemblages. Better understanding of relationships of species and assemblages with environmental variables will allow better prediction of where valued species and habitats may be found and inform decisions on the distribution of human activities and marine protected areas within a spatial planning process.

The last decade has witnessed an important increase in biodiversity studies of Chilean Patagonia (see Häussermann & Försterra, 2009 and literature cited herein). However, we are still lacking a comprehensive picture of the distribution of benthic species throughout the region while human pressure on marine benthic communities of Chilean Patagonia is rising constantly.

The enormous size of the region in relation to the low number of research projects dedicated to marine aspects of this region makes it clear that we have to find more efficient ways to inventory the biodiversity of Chilean Patagonia than the cost and time intense underwater mapping by divers. In addition this technique is restricted to the shallow parts of the littoral. ROVs can go deeper but are even slower and more expensive.

Combining field measurements, remote sensing, and statistical predictive models is currently seen as the most rewarding approach to mapping biodiversity at large spatial scales (Feilhauer & Schmidtlein, 2009; McArthur et al., 2010). We need to accelerate the inventory process if we still want to be able to study the marine life of this region before it is strongly altered by human impact.

Our analysis focuses on abiotic parameters and their value to predict species distribution, species number and percentage of functional groups. The use of tested proxies will allow us to map larger areas in reasonable time and in a more cost-efficient way, which would give planners the information they need for sound spatial management.

Preparing to launch the ROV in the Comau Fjord.

The Team

The idea of correlating abiotic with biotic variables and making sure that the most relevant and promising parameters have been considered and assessed correctly, requires a highly inter-disciplinary approach.

  • Vreni Häussermann (Pont. University of Valparaiso PUCV; project leader, specialized in taxonomy and biogeography of invertebrates of Chilean Patagonia)
  • Günter Försterra (PUCV; co-researcher, specialized in benthic ecology and methods for benthic assessment and analyses)
  • Rodrigo Torres, Centro de Invest. De Ecosys. Patagonicos CIEP (chemical oceanographer)
  • Nelson Valdivia (UACH; co-researcher, specialized in the effect of the physical environment on benthic communities)
  • John Howe (Scottish Association of Marine Science SAMS, geologist, specialized in in habitat mapping with muti-beam)
  • palaeontologist (Sven Nielsen, Universidad Austral de Valdivia; specialized in the evolution of marine invertebrates and environments)
  • Michael Burrows (SAMS; specialized in the effect of the abiotic environment on marine biodiversity)
  • Jürgen Laudien (Alfred-Wegener-Institute Germany, long-term cooperator in our research on benthic communities of Comau and Pitipalena Fjord)