Quantifying Florida Bay habitat suitability for fishes and invertebrates under climate change scenarios

Kearney, Kelly A. and Butler, Mark and Glazer, Robert and Kelble, Chris and Serafy, Joseph E. and Stabenau, Erik

The Florida Bay ecosystem supports a number of economically important ecosystem services, including several recreational fisheries, which may be affected by changing salinity and temperature due to climate change. In this paper, we use a combination of physical models and habitat suitability index models to quantify the effects of potential climate change scenarios on a variety of juvenile fish and lobster species in Florida Bay. The climate scenarios include alterations in sea level, evaporation and precipitation rates, coastal runoff, and water temperature. We find that the changes in habitat suitability vary in both magnitude and direction across the scenarios and species, but are on average small. Only one of the seven species we investigate (Lagodon rhomboides, i.e., pinfish) sees a sizable decrease in optimal habitat under any of the scenarios. This suggests that the estuarine fauna of Florida Bay may not be as vulnerable to climate change as other components of the ecosystem, such as those in the marine/terrestrial ecotone. However, these models are relatively simplistic, looking only at single species effects of physical drivers without considering the many interspecific interactions that may play a key role in the adjustment of the ecosystem as a whole. More complex models that capture the mechanistic links between physics and biology, as well as the complex dynamics of the estuarine food web, may be necessary to further understand the potential effects of climate change on the Florida Bay ecosystem.