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Modelling spatial patterns in harbour porpoise satellite telemetry data using maximum entropy

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The distribution of harbour porpoises in EU waters is poorly understood, and modelled predictions of their distributions could inform the strategic spatial planning of future exploitation of the marine environment to avoid potential conflicts. We analysed satellite telemetry data from 39 harbour porpoises Phocoena phocoena in inner Danish waters using a modelling tool rooted in maximum entropy: Maxent. Maxent does not require absence data and has been shown to be effective for data characterised by small sample size, sampling bias and locational errors. For each season we used an iterative bootstrapping procedure to randomly select among the most precise records from each of the 39 tagged individuals, and ran Maxent on pooled records based on explanatory environmental variables hypothesised to serve as good proxies for harbour porpoise prey abundance. Among our environmental variables, distance to coast and bottom salinity had the most explanatory power, and their response shapes were relatively consistent across most seasons. The predictive power of the models (assessed by ROC-AUC) ranged from 0.70 to 0.86 within seasons. The southern Kattegat, the Belt Seas, most western part of the Baltic Sea and the Sound were predicted to have relatively high probabilities of occurrence across seasons. In contrast, the central part of Kattegat and the Baltic Sea south and east of Limhamn and Darss Ridge consistently showed low probabilities of occurrence. Areas with the lowest probabilities of occurrence were generally characterised by high predictive uncertainty. Our methods have implications for the analyses of satellite tagged animals in terrestrial and marine environments. By coupling a bootstrapping procedure with Maxent we circumvented some of the statistical challenges presented by satellite telemetry data to generate spatial predictions within the inner Danish waters.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 1, 2010

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