One objective of the ArcticKelp project is to make predictions related to where the environmental conditions for kelp forests are ideal and provide a suitable habitat for specific kelp species. Another objective is to predict how much (percent cover) of these kelps can be found in those same places where suitability is predicted to be high. We were interested in doing this study because, due to climate change, the range of where kelps may be found in the Eastern Canadian Arctic may be found will likely change in the future. These changes could be either expansions or contractions of the current species distributions.
We found that sea temperature, ice thickness, and salinity are very important environmental variables that can explain the suitability of kelp habitat. We also found that the predicted distribution of kelp will likely expand to more northern locations in a climate change warming scenario. An important exception to this is the endemic arctic kelp L. solidungula. This species has a higher chance to lose a significant proportion of its habitat suitability. When making predictions related to the percent cover of kelps, the response among species studied were less clear.
Predicting the changes in the distribution of species in the future (mid and end of the century) is fundamental in order to make more accurate decisions about management of this resource in the present day. These marine underwater habitats are very important for coastal ecosystems because they create homes where small animals can find shelter, while simultaneously being one of the largest contributors to the base of the food web. One really important thing to highlight about the ArcticKelp predictions: these modelling approaches are predicting that the arctic kelps extent is potentially much greater than what it was suggested previously when including only available information about occurrence of species.
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