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Habitat distribution models for intertidal seaweeds: responses to climatic and non‐climatic drivers

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Aim  Because intertidal organisms often live close to their physiological tolerance limits, they are potentially sensitive indicators of climate‐driven changes in the environment. The goals of this study were to assess the effect of climatic and non‐climatic factors on the geographical distribution of intertidal macroalgae, and to predict future distributions under different climate‐warming scenarios.

Location  North‐western Iberian Peninsula, southern Europe.

Methods  We developed distribution models for six ecologically important intertidal seaweed species. Occurrence and microhabitat data were sampled at 1‐km2 resolution and analysed with climate variables measured at larger spatial scales. We used generalized linear models and applied the deviance and Bayesian information criterion to model the relationship between environmental variables and the distribution of each target species. We also used hierarchical partitioning (HP) to identify predictor variables with higher independent explanatory power.

Results  The distributions of Himanthalia elongata and Bifurcaria bifurcata were correlated with measures of terrestrial and marine climate, although in opposite directions. Model projections under two warming scenarios indicated the extinction of the former at a faster rate in the Cantabrian Sea (northern Spain) than in the Atlantic (west). In contrast, these models predicted an increase in the occurrence of B. bifurcata in both areas. The occurrences of Ascophyllum nodosum and Pelvetia canaliculata, species showing rather static historical distributions, were related to specific non‐climatic environmental conditions and locations, such as the location of sheltered sites. At the southernmost distributional limit, these habitats may present favourable microclimatic conditions or provide refuges from competitors or natural enemies. Model performances for Fucus vesiculosus and F. serratus were similar and poor, but several climatic variables influenced the occurrence of the latter in the HP analyses.

Main conclusions  The correlation between species distributions and climate was evident for two species, whereas the distributions of the others were associated with non‐climatic predictors. We hypothesize that the distribution of F. serratus responds to diverse combinations of factors in different sections of the north‐west Iberian Peninsula. Our study shows how the response of species distributions to climatic and non‐climatic variables may be complex and vary geographically. Our analyses also highlight the difficulty of making predictions based solely on variation in climatic factors measured at coarse spatial scales.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Departamento de Biología y Geología, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, E-28933, Móstoles, Madrid, Spain 2: Departamento de Biodiversidad y Biología Evolutiva, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, CSIC, E-28006, Madrid, Spain

Publication date: 01 October 2012

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