This thesis explores some important practical considerations concerning the use of species distribution models in marine conservation planning. Using geo-referenced gorgonian distribution data, together with explanatory environmental variables, predictive models have been used to map the spatial distribution of suitable gorgonian (sea fan) habitat in two study sites; Hatton Bank, in the Northeast Atlantic, and Lyme Bay on the south coast of Devon. Generalized Linear Models (GLMs), Generalized Additive Models (GAMs) and a Maximum Entropy (Maxent) model have been used to support critical investigation into important model considerations that have received inadequate attention in the marine environment. The influence of environmental data resolution on model performance has been explored with specific reference to available datasets in the nearshore and offshore environments. The transferability of deep-sea models has been similarly appraised, with recommendations as to the appropriate use of transferred models. Investigating these practical issues will allow managers to make informed decisions with respect to the best and most appropriate use of existing data. This study has also used novel approaches and investigated their suitability for marine conservation planning, including the use of model classification error in the spatial prioritisation of monitoring sites, and the adaptation of an existing presence-only modelling method to include absence data. Together, these studies contribute both practical recommendations for marine conservation planning and novel applications within the wider species distribution modelling discipline, and consider the implications of these developments for managers, to ensure the ongoing improvement and development of models to support conservation planning.

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