Modelling sensitive elasmobranch habitats
Bayesian hierarchical spatial model, elasmobranch habitat, Mediterranean Sea, species distribution modelling
Basic information on the distribution and habitat preferences of ecologically important species is essential for their management and protection. In the Mediterranean Sea there is increasing concern over elasmobranch species because their biological(ecological) characteristics makes them highly vulnerable to fishing pressure. Their removal could affect the structure and function of marine ecosystems, inducing changes in trophic interactions at the community level due to the selective elimination of predators or prey species, competitors and species replacement. In this study Bayesian hierarchical spatial models are used to map the sensitive habitats of the three most caught elasmobranch species (Galeus melastomus, Scyliorhinus canicula, Etmopterus spinax) in the western Mediterranean Sea, based on fishery-dependent bottom trawl data. Results show that habitats associated with hard substrata and sandy beds, mainly in deep waters and with a high seabed gradient, have a greater probability registering the presence of the studied species than those associated with muddy shallow waters. Temperature and chlorophyll-a concentration show a negative relationship with Scyliorhinus canicula occurrence. Our results identify some of the sensitive habitats for elasmobranchs in the western Mediterranean Sea (GSA06 South), providing essential and easy-to-use interpretation tools, such as predictive distribution maps, with the final aim of improving management and conservation of these vulnerable species.