Environmental variables and machine learning models to predict cetacean abundance in the Central-eastern Mediterranean Sea

Sci Rep. 2023 Feb 14;13(1):2600. doi: 10.1038/s41598-023-29681-y.


Although the Mediterranean Sea is a crucial hotspot in marine biodiversity, it has been threatened by numerous anthropogenic pressures. As flagship species, Cetaceans are exposed to those anthropogenic impacts and global changes. Assessing their conservation status becomes strategic to set effective management plans. The aim of this paper is to understand the habitat requirements of cetaceans, exploiting the advantages of a machine-learning framework. To this end, 28 physical and biogeochemical variables were identified as environmental predictors related to the abundance of three odontocete species in the Northern Ionian Sea (Central-eastern Mediterranean Sea). In fact, habitat models were built using sighting data collected for striped dolphins Stenella coeruleoalba, common bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus, and Risso’s dolphins Grampus griseus between July 2009 and October 2021. Random Forest was a suitable machine learning algorithm for the cetacean abundance estimation. Nitrate, phytoplankton carbon biomass, temperature, and salinity were the most common influential predictors, followed by latitude, 3D-chlorophyll and density. The habitat models proposed here were validated using sighting data acquired during 2022 in the study area, confirming the good performance of the strategy. This study provides valuable information to support management decisions and conservation measures in the EU marine spatial planning context.

PMID:36788321 | PMC:PMC9929343 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-023-29681-y


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