Heterogeneous data collection in the marine environment has led to large gaps in our knowledge of marine species distributions. To fill these gaps, models calibrated on existing data may be used to predict species distributions in unsampled areas, given that available data are sufficiently representative. Our objective was to evaluate the feasibility of mapping cetacean densities across the entire Mediterranean Sea using models calibrated on available survey data and various environmental covariates. We aggregated 302,481 km of line transect survey effort conducted in the Mediterranean Sea within the past 20 years by many organisations. Survey coverage was highly heterogeneous geographically and seasonally: Large data gaps were present in the eastern and southern Mediterranean and in non-summer months. We mapped the extent of interpolation versus extrapolation and the proportion of data nearby in environmental space when models calibrated on existing survey data were used for prediction across the entire Mediterranean Sea. Using model predictions to map cetacean densities in the eastern and southern Mediterranean, characterised by warmer, less productive waters, and more intense eddy activity, would lead to potentially unreliable extrapolations. We stress the need for systematic surveys of cetaceans in these environmentally unique Mediterranean waters, particularly in non-summer months.
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© 2018 The Author(s).
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