Estuaries and Coasts

Application of Species Distribution Models to Identify Estuarine Hot Spots for Juvenile Nekton

Modeling the distribution and habitat capacities of key estuarine species can be used to identify hot spots, areas where species density is significantly higher than surrounding areas. This approach would be useful for establishing a baseline for evaluating future environmental scenarios across a landscape. We developed species distribution models for early juvenile life stages of brown shrimp (Farfantepenaeus aztecus), white shrimp, (Litopenaeus setifurus), blue crab (Callinectes sapidus), and spotted seatrout (Cynoscion nebulosus) in order to delineate the current coastal hot spots that provide the highest quality habitat conditions for these estuarine-dependent species in Louisiana. Response curves were developed from existing long-term fisheries-independent monitoring data to identify habitat sustainability for fragmented marsh landscapes. Response curves were then integrated with spatially explicit input data to generate species distribution models for the coastal region of Louisiana. Using spatial auto-correlation metrics, we detected clusters of suitable habitat across the Louisiana coast, but only 1% of the areas were identifies as true hot spots with the highest habitat quality for nekton. The regions identifies as hot spots were productive fringing marsh habitats that are considered the most vulnerable to natural and anthropogenic impacts. The species distribution models identify the coastal habitats which currently provide the greatest capacity for key estuarine species and will be used in the Louisiana coastal planning process to evaluate how species distributions may change under various environmental and restoration scenarios. Click here to view the full publication.