The objectives of this work were to examine the past, current and potential influence of global climate change on the spatial distribution of some commercially exploited fish and to evaluate a recently proposed new ecological niche model (ENM) called nonparametric probabilistic ecological niche model (NPPEN). This new technique is based on a modified version of the test called Multiple Response Permutation Procedure (MRPP) using the generalized Mahalanobis distance. The technique was applied in the extratropical regions of the North Atlantic Ocean on eight commercially exploited fish species using three environmental parameters (sea surface temperature, bathymetry and sea surface salinity). The numerical procedure and the model allowed a better characterization of the niche (sensu Hutchinson) and an improved modelling of the spatial distribution of the species. Furthermore, the technique appeared to be robust to incomplete or bimodal training sets. Despite some potential limitations related to the choice of the climatic scenarios (A2 and B2), the type of physical model (ECHAM 4) and the absence of consideration of biotic interactions, modelled changes in species distribution explained some current observed shifts in dominance that occurred in the North Atlantic sector, and particularly in the North Sea. Although projected changes suggest a poleward movement of species, our results indicate that some species may not be able to track their climatic envelope and that climate change may have a prominent influence on fish distribution during this century. The phenomenon is likely to trigger locally major changes in the dominance of species with likely implications for socio-economical systems. In this way, ENMs might provide a new management tool against which changes in the resource might be better anticipated.
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