scientific article |
Costa BM, Kendall MS, Rooney J, Chow M, Lecky J, Parrish FA, Montgomery A, Boland,RC, Spalding H
The primary objective of this study was to predict the distribution of mesophotic hard corals in the Au‘au Channel in the Main Hawaiian Islands (MHI). Mesophotic hard corals are light-dependent corals adapted to the low light conditions at approximately 30 to 150 m in depth. Several physical factors potentially influence their spatial distribution, including aragonite saturation, alkalinity, pH, currents, water temperature, hard substrate availability and the availability of light at depth. Mesophotic corals and mesophotic coral ecosystems (MCEs) have increasingly been the subject of scientific study because they are being threatened by a growing number of anthropogenic stressors. They are the focus of this spatial modeling effort because the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary (HIHWNMS) is exploring the expansion of its scope—beyond the protection of the North Pacific Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)—to include the conservation and management of these ecosystem components. The present study helps to address this need by examining the distribution of mesophotic corals in the Au‘au Channel region. This area is located between the islands of Maui, Lanai, Molokai and Kahoolawe, and includes parts of the Kealaikahiki, Alalākeiki and Kalohi Channels. It is unique, not only in terms of its geology, but also in terms of its physical oceanography and local weather patterns. Several physical conditions make it an ideal place for mesophotic hard corals, including consistently good water quality and clarity because it is flushed by tidal currents semi-diurnally; it has low amounts of rainfall and sediment run-off from the nearby land; and it is largely protected from seasonally strong wind and wave energy. Combined, these oceanographic and weather conditions create patches of comparatively warm, calm, clear waters that remain relatively stable through time. Freely available Maximum Entropy modeling software (MaxEnt 3.3.3e) was used to create four separate maps of predicted habitat suitability for: (1) all mesophotic hard corals combined, (2) Leptoseris, (3) Montipora and (4) Porites genera. MaxEnt works by analyzing the distribution of environmental variables where species are present, so it can find other areas that meet all of the same environmental constraints. Several steps (Figure 0.1) were required to produce and validate four ensemble predictive models (i.e., models with 10 replicates each). Approximately 2,000 georeferenced records containing information about mesophotic coral occurrence and 34 environmental predictors describing the seafloor’s depth, vertical structure, available light, surface temperature, currents and distance from shoreline at three spatial scales were used to train MaxEnt. Fifty percent of the 1,989 records were randomly chosen and set aside to assess each model replicate’s performance using Receiver Operating Characteristic (ROC), Area Under the Curve (AUC) values. An additional 1,646 records were also randomly chosen and set aside to independently assess the predictive accuracy of the four ensemble models. Suitability thresholds for these models (denoting where corals were predicted to be present/absent) were chosen by finding where the maximum number of correctly predicted presence and absence records intersected on each ROC curve. Permutation importance and jackknife analysis were used to quantify the contribution of each environmental variable to the four ensemble models.