Citizen science data of cetaceans in the Arabian/Persian Gulf: Occurrence and habitat preferences of the three most reported species

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Marine Mammal Science

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Citizen science data are becoming increasingly relevant in wildlife studies, especially when obtaining data requires costly logistics. In the Arabian/Persian Gulf, baseline information about cetaceans is scarce despite their regular presence. From 2012 to 2019, a citizen science campaign conducted in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) obtained information on 1,292 cetacean sightings. These were methodically validated by experts, resulting in 1,103 records where species was confidently assigned. From the 12 species reported, we analyzed the spatial patterns of occurrence and drivers of habitat preference for the three most reported species: Tursiops aduncus (Ta 53%), Sousa plumbea (Sp 45%), and Neophocaena phocaenoides (Np 2%). Ecological niche modelling, considering seven environmental variables (physicochemical: temperature, silicate, calcite, pH; physiographic: distance from coast, bathymetry; biological: chlorophyll) showed subtle niche partitioning among the three species. Our results suggest different diets and energy requirements for Np, with Ta and Sp, segregating mostly by different patterns of space use. Specifically, Sp prefers close proximity to shore, particularly areas with complex networks of inland canals. This information provides an estimate of habitat preferences, that can be used in formulating effective conservation measures. Sp shows the narrowest area of suitable habitat and is at particular risk from habitat degradation.




Life Sciences

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Open Access