Ecological niche models (ENMs) predict where species can occur in accordance with environmental factors. Suitability maps are generated through models to identify habitats more or less adapted to the species. Published works on the distribution and habitat use of Guiana dolphin, Sotalia guianensis, are limited to fine spatial scales. Here, we aimed to predict the potential geographical distribution of Guiana dolphins through ENMs and generate a map of suitable habitats for the species. Data were collected between 1997 and 2015 in Brazil, French Guiana, and Colombia. The environmental data were obtained from MARSPEC database with a cell resolution of 10 × 10 km. For modeling, 99 of the 859 initial occurrence points of the species were considered after rarefaction. Seven environmental variables were selected through factorial analysis: bathymetry, distance to shore, bathymetric slope, sea surface salinity (minimum monthly and annual range), and sea surface temperature (mean annual and annual range). Results from five distinct algorithms were assembled to generate the distribution model. Our findings show potential areas in shallow platforms of the continental margin of South and Central America, including regions where the species has never been reported, such as the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of California, the Gulf of Mexico, and the oceanic islands in the Caribbean Sea. The absence of Guiana dolphins in these regions may be due to geographical (linking of North and South America), physical (water temperature), and biological (competition, limited ability to dispersal) limiting factors. The models suggest that the presence of other species of coastal dolphin may be an important limiting factor for the Guiana dolphin at both extremes of its distribution. The Guiana dolphin is habitat specialist with a clinal potential geographic distribution concentrated in tropical and subtropical shallow and coastal waters of the continental shelf of the western Atlantic Ocean. This more restricted distribution than reported by IUCN and other studies suggests a cautionary approach to its conservation status due to limited dispersal abilities and high overlap with human activities.
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Vol. 102 • No. 1