Predicting suitable environments and potential occurrences for coelacanths (Latimeria spp.)
ecological niche modeling, Latimeria chalumnae, Latimeria menadoensis, potential distribution
Extant coelacanths (Latimeria chalumnae) were first discovered in the western Indian Ocean in 1938; in 1998, a second species of coelacanth, Latimeria menadoensis, was discovered off the north coast of Sulawesi, Indonesia, expanding the known distri- bution of the genus across the Indian Ocean Basin. This study uses ecological niche modeling techniques to estimate dimensions of realized niches of coelacanths and generate hypotheses for additional sites where they might be found. Coelacanth occurrence infor- mation was integrated with environmental and oceanographic data using the Genetic Algorithm for Rule-set Production (GARP) and a maximum entropy algorithm (Maxent). Resulting models were visualized as maps of relative suitability of sites for coelacanths throughout the Indian Ocean, as well as scatterplots of ecological variables. Our findings suggest that the range of coelacanths could extend beyond their presently known distri- bution and suggests alternative mechanisms for currently observed distributions. Further investigation into these hypotheses could aid in forming a more complete picture of the distributions and populations of members of genus Latimeria, which in turn could aid in developing conservation strategies, particularly in the case of L. menadoensis.