A species distribution model of the giant kelp Macrocystis pyrifera: Worldwide changes and a focus on the Southeast Pacific

Daniel Gonzalez-Aragon, Marcelo M. Rivadeneira, Carlos Lara, Felipe I. Torres, Julio A. Vásquez, Bernardo R. Broitman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Worldwide climate-driven shifts in the distribution of species is of special concern when it involves habitat-forming species. In the coastal environment, large Laminarian algae—kelps—form key coastal ecosystems that support complex and diverse food webs. Among kelps, Macrocystis pyrifera is the most widely distributed habitat-forming species and provides essential ecosystem services. This study aimed to establish the main drivers of future distributional changes on a global scale and use them to predict future habitat suitability. Using species distribution models (SDM), we examined the changes in global distribution of M. pyrifera under different emission scenarios with a focus on the Southeast Pacific shores. To constrain the drivers of our simulations to the most important factors controlling kelp forest distribution across spatial scales, we explored a suite of environmental variables and validated the predictions derived from the SDMs. Minimum sea surface temperature was the single most important variable explaining the global distribution of suitable habitat for M. pyrifera. Under different climate change scenarios, we always observed a decrease of suitable habitat at low latitudes, while an increase was detected in other regions, mostly at high latitudes. Along the Southeast Pacific, we observed an upper range contraction of −17.08° S of latitude for 2090–2100 under the RCP8.5 scenario, implying a loss of habitat suitability throughout the coast of Peru and poleward to −27.83° S in Chile. Along the area of Northern Chile where a complete habitat loss is predicted by our model, natural stands are under heavy exploitation. The loss of habitat suitability will take place worldwide: Significant impacts on marine biodiversity and ecosystem functioning are likely. Furthermore, changes in habitat suitability are a harbinger of massive impacts in the socio-ecological systems of the Southeast Pacific.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere10901
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • Southeast Pacific
  • climate change
  • distribution model
  • habitat forming
  • kelp forests
  • projection


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