Projecting marine mammal distribution in a changing climate
Silber, GK and Lettrich, MD and Thomas, PO and Baker, JD and Baumgartner, M and Becker, EA and Boveng, P and Dick, DM and Fiechter, J and Forcada, J and Forney, KA and Griffis, RB and Hare, JA and Hobday, AJ and Howell, D and Laidre, KL and Mantua, N and Quackenbush, L and Santora, JA and Stafford, KM and Spencer, P and Stock, C and Sydeman, W and Van Houten, K and Waples, RS, Projecting marine mammal distribution in a changing climate, Frontiers in Marine Science, 4 Article 413. (2017) [Refereed Article]
Climate-related shifts in marine mammal range and distribution have been observed in some populations; however, the nature and magnitude of future responses are uncertain in novel environments projected under climate change. This poses a challenge for agencies charged with management and conservation of these species. Specialized diets, restricted ranges, or reliance on specific substrates or sites (e.g., for pupping) make many marine mammal populations particularly vulnerable to climate change. High-latitude, predominantly ice-obligate, species have experienced some of the largest changes in habitat and distribution and these are expected to continue. Efforts to predict and project marine mammal distributions to date have emphasized data-driven statistical habitat models. These have proven successful for short time-scale (e.g., seasonal) management activities, but confidence that such relationships will hold for multi-decade projections and novel environments is limited. Recent advances in mechanistic modeling of marine mammals (i.e., models that rely on robust physiological and ecological principles expected to hold under climate change) may address this limitation. The success of such approaches rests on continued advances in marine mammal ecology, behavior, and physiology together with improved regional climate projections. The broad scope of this challenge suggests initial priorities be placed on vulnerable species or populations (those already experiencing declines or projected to undergo ecological shifts resulting from climate changes that are consistent across climate projections) and species or populations for which ample data already exist (with the hope that these may inform climate change sensitivities in less well observed species or populations elsewhere). The sustained monitoring networks, novel observations, and modeling advances required to more confidently project marine mammal distributions in a changing climate will ultimately benefit management decisions across time-scales, further promoting the resilience of marine mammal populations.