- This study examines the spatial distribution of three species of wolffish in the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the basis of trawl surveys.
- A standardized method is proposed to assess species–habitat associations for the purpose of management and recovery of endangered marine species.
- Catch data (presence/absence in trawl sets) and landscape and environmental characteristics of the sea floor were aggregated using a common grid (100 km2 cells), and species–habitat relationships were explored using geospatial tools.
- Relative occurrence was lower and area of occupancy and concentration were much smaller for the northern wolffish (Anarhichas denticulatus) than for the spotted wolffish (Anarhichas minor), with the striped wolffish (Anarhichas lupus) being most widespread. Significant relationships were observed between values of the local spatial autocorrelation Gi* statistic and habitat descriptors for each of the three species.
- Hot spots for spotted and striped wolffish occurred in areas where a greater diversity of relief and habitats was found. They were associated with intermediate depths, coarse sediments and rock outcrops, and lower salinities and temperatures than for northern wolffish.
- Northern wolffish appeared to be associated mainly with the deep water sloped habitat bordering deep channels, whereas spotted and striped wolffish both concentrated most intensively into neighbouring deep water shelf habitats and relatively cold shallow to mid-depth shelf habitats of the northern Gulf.
- The RDA analysis indicated a significant relationship between Gi* scores of the three species and environmental variables. The model explained 52% of the variability in the data; northern wolffish showed a distinct relationship compared with the two other species.
- The conservation of marine species and protection of their habitats pose a major challenge given the limited amount of information typically available on rare species and the scale and complexity of marine processes that affect those species. The broad-scale approach presented here allows the provision of advice on important habitats on the basis of the best available knowledge.
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