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Fine-scale spatial and temporal distribution patterns of large marine predators in a biodiversity hotspot

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Fabrice StephensonORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© 2023 The Authors. Diversity and Distributions published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Aim: Large marine predators, such as cetaceans and sharks, play a crucial role in maintaining biodiversity patterns and ecosystem function, yet few estimates of their spatial distribution exist. We aimed to determine the species richness of large marine predators and investigate their fine-scale spatiotemporal distribution patterns to inform conservation management. Location: The Hauraki Gulf/Tīkapa Moana/Te Moananui-ā-Toi, Aotearoa/New Zealand. Methods: We conducted a replicate systematic aerial survey over 12 months. Flexible machine learning models were used to explore relationships between large marine predator occurrence (Bryde's whales, common and bottlenose dolphins, bronze whaler, pelagic and immature hammerhead sharks) and environmental and biotic variables, and predict their monthly distribution and associated spatially explicit uncertainty. Results: We revealed that temporally dynamic variables, such as prey distribution and sea surface temperature, were important for predicting the occurrence of the study species and species groups. While there was variation in temporal and spatial distribution, predicted richness peaked in summer and was the highest in coastal habitats during that time, providing insight into changes in distributions over time and between species. Main Conclusions: Temporal changes in distribution are not routinely accounted for in species distribution studies. Our approach highlights the value of multispecies surveys and the importance of considering temporally variable abiotic and biotic drivers for understanding biodiversity patterns when informing ecosystem-scale conservation planning and dynamic ocean management.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Stephenson F, Hamilton ONP, Torres LG, Kozmian-Ledward L, Pinkerton MH, Constantine R

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Diversity and Distributions

Year: 2023

Volume: 29

Issue: 7

Pages: 804-820

Print publication date: 01/07/2023

Online publication date: 03/05/2023

Acceptance date: 17/04/2023

Date deposited: 22/11/2023

ISSN (print): 1366-9516

ISSN (electronic): 1472-4642

Publisher: John Wiley and Sons Inc.


DOI: 10.1111/ddi.13705


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Funder referenceFunder name
Auckland Council
Department of Conservation—Hauraki Gulf Marine Mammal Fund
Michelle Comeau
Ports of Auckland
SSIF Coasts & Oceans Programme, NIWA
University of Auckland—Waipapa Taumata Rau