Proximity to freshwater and seagrass availability mediate the impacts of climate change on the distribution of the West Indian manatee




How climate change alters persistence and distribution of endangered species is an urgent question in current ecological research. However, many species distribution models do not consider consumers in the context of their resources. The distribution and survival of the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus), listed as a Vulnerable species on the IUCN Red List, critically depend on seagrass resources and freshwater sources for drinking. We parameterized Maxent models with Bio-ORACLE environmental layers, freshwater proximity data, and modelled seagrass distance layers, to determine manatee and seagrass distributions under future climate change scenarios. We used two plausible IPCC Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP45 and RCP26, respectively) for the year 2050. The model fits had high accuracies and predicted a marked decline in seagrass coverage (RCP26: -1.9%, RCP45: -6%), coinciding with declines in manatee ranges (RCP26: -9%, RCP45: -11.8%). We also found that over 94% of the projected manatee distribution for all scenarios fell within the seagrass distribution. The analysis showed a decline in seagrass coverage to significantly impact manatee distributions, since the distance to seagrass ecological layer contributed significantly to manatee distributions, along with distance to freshwater sources. Our findings suggest that manatees will lose substantial range due to future climate change, but the extent and direction of this change will be mediated by the degree of warming and its impact on the resources manatees depend on.

Author Biographies

Emma Deeks, Queen Mary University of London

PhD Student in Kratina Lab

Queen Mary University of London 

London NERC DTP Cohort 7




Pavel Kratina, Queen Mary University of London

Senior Lecturer in Ecology

School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences

Queen Mary University of London

Mile End Road

London E1 4NS

United Kingdom

I am a population and community ecologist. My research evaluates the roles of climate warming, foraging behavior, and other organismal traits on the diversity, structure, and dynamics of aquatic food webs and ecosystems.

I seek to develop a mechanistic understanding of processes that control species diversity and its consequences for ecosystem function and services.

This work spans a range of approaches to testing ecological hypotheses, including manipulative experiments, mechanistic modelling, and integrative analysis of large-scale data from diverse aquatic ecosystems.

Iran Normande, Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation

PhD Student at UFAL and MPA manage at lagoa do Jequiá Marine Extractive Reserve


Aline Da Silva Cerqueira, Kings College London

PhD Student 

Department of Geography 

Kings College London

Bush House, North East Wing, 

United Kingdom

Terry Dawson, Kings College London

Professor T. P. Dawson, CEng MIET FRGS
Chair of Global Environmental Change

Co-leader, Agroecology Specialist Group of the IUCN

Commission on Ecosystem Management


Department of Geography,

King's College London,

Bush House, North East Wing,

30 Aldwych, London, WC2B 4BG.

Additional Files



How to Cite

Deeks, E., Kratina, P., Normande, I., Da Silva Cerqueira, A., & Dawson, T. (2024). Proximity to freshwater and seagrass availability mediate the impacts of climate change on the distribution of the West Indian manatee. Latin American Journal of Aquatic Mammals, 19(1), 15-31.