Habitat preference modelling as a conservation tool: proposals for marine protected areas for cetaceans in southern Spanish waters

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Abstract

  • 1.As part of a project to identify marine protected areas (MPAs) in Spanish Mediterranean waters, habitat preference models were developed using 11 years of survey data to provide predictions of relative density for cetacean species occurring off southern Spain.
  • 2.Models for bottlenose, striped and common dolphin described, firstly, probability of occurrence (using GLMs) and, secondly, group size (using linear models) as predicted by habitat type defined by a range of physical and oceanographic covariates. Models for Risso's dolphin, long-finned pilot, sperm and beaked whales used only the first stage because of data limitations.
  • 3.Model results were used to define the boundaries of three proposed Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) (under the EU Habitats Directive) and one proposed Specially Protected Area of Mediterranean Importance (SPAMI) (under the Barcelona Convention).
  • 4.The study illustrates the value of habitat preference modelling as a tool to help identify potential MPAs. The analyses incorporate environmental data in a spatial prediction that is an improvement over simpler descriptions of animal occurrence. Contiguous areas covering a specified proportion of relative abundance can readily be defined. Areas with apparently good habitat but few observations can be identified for future research or monitoring programmes.
  • 5.Models can be refitted as new observations and additional environmental data become available, allowing changes in habitat preference to be investigated and monitoring how well MPAs are likely to be affording protection.
  • 6.The study represents an important contribution to the implementation of the Habitats Directive by the Spanish government by providing a robust scientific basis for the definition of SAC and providing results to inform conservation objectives and management plans for these areas. The results identified areas that are important for a number of cetacean species, thus illustrating the potential for MPAs to improve cetacean conservation generally in the Alboran Sea, a region of great importance for supporting biodiversity and ecological processes in the wider Mediterranean Sea.

Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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