Seasonal variation in the spatial distribution of basking sharks (Cetorhinus maximus) in the lower Bay of Fundy, Canada.
The local distribution of basking sharks in the Bay of Fundy (BoF) is unknown despite frequent occurrences in the area from May to November. Defining this species' spatial habitat use is critical for accurately assessing its Special Concern conservation status in Atlantic Canada. We developed maximum entropy distribution models for the lower BoF and the northeast Gulf of Maine (GoM) to describe spatiotemporal variation in habitat use of basking sharks. Under the Maxent framework, we assessed model responses and distribution shifts in relation to known migratory behavior and local prey dynamics. We used 10 years (2002-2011) of basking shark surface sightings from July-October acquired during boat-based surveys in relation to chlorophyll-a concentration, sea surface temperature, bathymetric features, and distance to seafloor contours to assess habitat suitability. Maximum entropy estimations were selected based on AICc criterion and used to predict habitat utilizing three model-fitting routines as well as converted to binary suitable/non-suitable habitat using the maximum sensitivity and specificity threshold. All models predicted habitat better than random (AUC values >0.796). From July-September, a majority of habitat was in the BoF, in waters >100 m deep, and in the Grand Manan Basin. In October, a majority of the habitat shifted southward into the GoM and to areas >200 m deep. Model responses suggest that suitable habitat from July - October is dependent on a mix of distance to the 0, 100, 150, and 200 m contours but in some models on sea surface temperature (July) and chlorophyll-a (August and September). Our results reveal temporally dynamic habitat use of basking sharks within the BoF and GoM. The relative importance of predictor variables suggests that prey dynamics constrained the species distribution in the BoF. Also, suitable habitat shifted minimally from July-September providing opportunities to conserve the species during peak abundance in the region.
Siders, ZA; Westgate, AJ; Johnston, DW; Murison, LD; Koopman, HN
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