Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Using Ecological Niche Modelling to Predict Climate Change Responses of Ten Key Fishery Species in Aotearoa New Zealand

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posted on 2021-12-08, 10:53 authored by Brooks, Amber

The long-term sustainability and security of food sources for an increasing human population will become more challenging as climate change alters growing and harvesting conditions. Significant infrastructure changes could be required to continue to supply food from traditional sources. Fisheries remain the only major protein supply directly harvested from the wild. This likely makes it the most sensitive primary sector to climate change. Overfishing is an additional concern for harvested species. There is a need to anticipate how marine species may respond to climate change to help inform how management might best be prepared for shifting distributions and productivity levels. The most common response of mobile marine species to changes in climate is an alteration of their geographic distributions and/or range shifts. Predicting changes to a species’ range could promote timely development of more sustainable harvest strategies. Additionally, these predictions could reduce potential conflict when different management areas experience increasing or decreasing catches. Ecological Niche Modelling (ENM) is a helpful approach for predicting the response of key fishery species to climate change scenarios.  The overall aim of this research was to use the maximum entropy method, Maxent, to perform ENM on 10 commercially important fishery species, managed under the Quota management system in Aotearoa (New Zealand). Occurrence data from trawl surveys were used along with climate layers from Bio-ORACLE to estimate the species niche and then predict distributions in four different future climate scenarios, called Representative Concentration Pathway Scenarios (RCPS), in both 2050 and 2100. With little consensus over the best settings and way to apply the Maxent method, hundreds of variations were tried for each species, and the best model chosen from trial experimentation.  In general, Maxent performed well, with evaluation metrics for best models showing little omission error and good discriminatory ability. There was, however, considerable variation between the different species responses to the future climate scenarios. Consistent with other studies, species able to tolerate sub-tropical or temperate conditions tended to expand southward, while subantarctic species generally contracted within their preferred environment. The increasing emissions or ‘business as usual’ climate change scenario consistently presented the most extreme difference from modern predictions. Northern regions of prediction, where sub-tropical or temperate species increased in probability of presence, were often highly uncertain due to novel conditions in future environments. Southern regions were usually less uncertain. Surface temperature consistently influenced base models more so than any other covariates considered, with the exception of bathymetry.  Some predictions showed common areas of relative stability, such as hoki and ling on the southern Chatham Rise, potentially indicating future refugia. The preservation of habitats in the putative refugia may be important for long-term fisheries resilience. Furthermore, most species that showed large predicted declines are currently heavily harvested and managed. Overfishing could compound the effects of climate change and put these fisheries at serious risk of collapse. Identification of potential refugial areas could aid strategy adjustments to fishing practice to help preserve stock viability. Additionally, when some species shift, there are areas where new fisheries may emerge.  This study offers a perspective of what future distributions could be like under different climate scenarios. The ENM predicts that the ‘business as usual’ scenario, where ‘greenhouse gas’ emissions continue to rise throughout the century, will have a negative impact on multiple aspects of distribution. However, in a reduced emissions scenario, less extreme range shifts are predicted. This study has provided a predictive approach to how fisheries in Aotearoa might change. The next step is to determine whether there is any evidence for the beginning of these changes and to consider how fisheries might best adapt.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Ecology and Biodiversity

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Science

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Alternative Title

Ecological Niche Modelling of Ten Key Fishery Species in Aotearoa

Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Biological Sciences


Ritchie, Peter; Dunn, Matt