Physiology-based modelling approaches to characterize fish habitat suitability: their usefulness and limitations

L.R. Teal, Stefano Marras, M.A. Peck, Paolo Domenici*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Models are useful tools for predicting the impact of global change on species distribution and abundance. As ectotherms, fish are being challenged to adapt or track changes in their environment, either in time through a phenological shift or in space by a biogeographic shift. Past modelling efforts have largely been based on correlative Species Distribution Models, which use known occurrences of species across landscapes of interest to define sets of conditions under which species are likely to maintain populations. The practical advantages of this correlative approach are its simplicity and the flexibility in terms of data
requirements. However, effective conservation management requires models that make projections beyond the range of available data. One way to deal with such an extrapolation is to use a mechanistic approach based on physiological processes underlying climate change effects on organisms. Here we illustrate two approaches for developing physiology-based models to characterize fish habitat suitability. (i) Aerobic Scope Models (ASM) are based on the relationship between environmental factors and aerobic scope (defined as the difference between maximum and standard (basal) metabolism). This approach is based on experimental data collected by using a number of treatments that allow a function to be derived to predict aerobic metabolic scope from the stressor/environmental factor(s). This function is then integrated with environmental (oceanographic) data of current and future scenarios. For any given species, this approach allows habitat suitability maps to be generated at various spatiotemporal scales. The strength of the ASM approach relies on the estimate of relative performance when comparing, for example, different locations or different species. (ii) Dynamic Energy Budget (DEB) models are based on first principles including the idea that metabolism is organised in the same way within all animals. The (standard) DEB model aims to describe empirical relationships which can be found consistently within physiological data across the animal kingdom. The advantages of the DEB models are that they make use
of the generalities found in terms of animal physiology and can therefore be applied to species for which little data or empirical observations are available. In addition, the limitations as well as useful potential refinements of these and other physiology-based modelling approaches are discussed. Inclusion of the
physiological response of various life stages and modelling the patterns of extreme events observed in nature are suggested for future work
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)56-63
JournalEstuarine Coastal and Shelf Science
Early online date2015
Publication statusPublished - 5 Feb 2018


  • physiology-based models
  • dynamic energy budget
  • aerobic scope
  • species distribution
  • fish
  • conservation biology


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