Ecoacoustics is an emerging ecological discipline that investigates the role and the relevance of geophonic, biophonic and technophonic sounds in ecological processes.About the Journal
Both marine mammals and hydroacoustic instruments employ underwater sound to communicate, navigate or infer information about the marine environment. Concurrent timing of acoustic activities using similar frequency regimes may result in (potentially mutual) interference of acoustic signals when both sources are within audible range of the recipient. While marine mammal fitness might be negatively impacted upon, both on individual and population level, hydroacoustic studies may generate low quality data or suffer data loss as a result of bioacoustic interference. This article pursues, in analogy to landscape planning, the concept of marine soundscape planning to reconcile potentially competing uses of acoustic space by managing the anthropogenic sound sources. We here present a conceptual framework exploring the potential of soundscape planning in reducing (mutual) acoustic interference between hydroacoustic instrumentation and marine mammals. The basis of this framework is formed by the various mechanisms by which acoustic niche formation (i.e., the partitioning of the acoustic space) occurs in species-rich communities that acoustically coexist while maintaining high fidelity (hi-fi) soundscapes, i.e., by acoustically partitioning the environment on the basis of time, space, frequency and signal structure. Hydroacoustic measurements often exhibit certain flexibility in their timing, and even instrument positioning, potentially offering the opportunity to minimize the ecological imprint of their operation. This study explores how the principle of acoustic niches could contribute to reduce potential (mutual) acoustic interference based on actual acoustic data from three recording locations in polar oceans. By employing marine soundscape planning strategies, entailing shifting the timing or position of hydroacoustic experiments, or adapting signal structure or frequency, we exemplify the potential efficacy of smart planning for four different hydroacoustic instrumentation types: multibeam echosounders, air guns, RAFOS (Ranging and Fixing of Sound) and tomographic sound sources.
Ecoacoustics is a new discipline that investigates the ecological role of sounds. Ecoacoustics is a relevant field of research related to long-term monitoring, habitat health, biodiversity assessment, soundscape conservation and ecosystem management. Several life traits of the species, populations, communities, and landscapes/waterscapes may be described by ecoacoustics. Non-invasive programmable recording devices with on-board ecoacoustic metric calculations are efficient and powerful tools to investigate ecological systems. A set of processes in four [adaptive, behavioural, geographical, ecosemiotic] domains supports and guides the development of ecoacoustics. The first domain includes evolutionary mechanisms that join sound typology with the physical and biological characteristics of the environment and create frequency partitioning among species to reduce competition. The second domain addresses interspecific signals associated with geophysical and anthropogenic sounds that operate to shape temporary acoustic communities and orient species to select suitable acoustic habitats. The third domain pertains to the geography of sound, an entity composed of three subordinate acoustic objects: sonotopes, soundtopes, and sonotones, which are operationally delimited in a geographical and temporal space by the distribution of the ecoacoustic events. The ecoacoustic events allow the classification of complex configurations of acoustic signals and represent the grain of a soundscape mosaic. The fourth domain operates by ecosemiotic mechanisms within the species level according to a function-specific perception of the acoustic information facilitated by encoding processes.
In response to anthropogenic noise, many bird species adjust their song frequency, presumably to optimize song transmission and overcome noise masking. But the costs of song adjustments may outweigh the benefits during different stages of breeding, depending on the locations of potential receivers. Selection might favor unpaired males to alter their songs because they sing to attract females that may be widely dispersed, whereas paired males might not if mates and neighbors are primary receivers of their song. We hypothesized male house wrens (Troglodytes aedon) respond differently to noise depending on their pairing status. To test our hypothesis we synthesized pink noise, which mimics anthropogenic noise, and played it at three intensities in territories of paired and unpaired focal males. We recorded their songs and analyzed whether song structure varied with pairing status and noise treatment. To validate our study design, we tested whether noise playback affected measurement of spectral song traits and changed noise levels within territories of focal males. Consistent with our predictions, unpaired males sang differently than paired males, giving longer songs at higher rates. Contrary to predictions, paired males changed their songs by increasing peak frequency during high intensity noise playback, whereas unpaired males did not. If adjusting song frequency in noise is beneficial for long-distance communication we would have expected unpaired males to change their songs in response to noise. By adjusting song frequency, paired males reduce masking and produce a song that is easier to hear. However, if females prefer low frequency song, then unpaired males may be constrained by female preference. Alternatively, if noise adjustments are learned and vary with experience or quality, unpaired males in our study population may be younger, less experienced, or lower quality males.
Autonomous recording is commonly used to examine the structure of avian communities in a variety of landscapes. Many birds return to the breeding grounds in May yet acoustic surveys typically begin in June. In many species, singing activity declines through the breeding season and so detections may be lower later in the season. The aim of our study was to compare the species richness and the community composition measured early (mid-late May) and later (mid-late June) in the breeding season. We recorded the community of singing birds at 13 locations in York Region, Ontario, Canada woodlots over two days using autonomous recorders. We used spectrographic analysis to scan recordings and identify all vocalizing species. We found that species richness was significantly higher in early recordings compared to later recordings with detections of both migrants and residents displaying this trend. Most food and foraging guilds were also detected significantly less often later in the season. Despite changes in species richness, the proportion of the community represented by each foraging guild did not vary between early and late recordings. Our results suggest that acoustic recordings could be collected earlier in the breeding season, extending the survey period into May. If the primary goal of monitoring is to document species presence/absence then earlier recordings may be advantageous.
Background noise can have a substantial effect on communication signals, however far less is known about how natural soundscapes may influence hearing sensitivity. Here we compare the audiograms of 26 wild beluga whales measured in their natural environment to a series of ecoacoustic measurements within a primary portion of their Bristol Bay summer habitat, the Nushagak Estuary in Bristol Bay, AK, USA. Environmental acoustic measurements were made during 2012 and 2016 using two different methods: a moored recorder and drifter buoys. Environmental noise curves varied substantially. Drifter recordings from the middle of Nushgak Estuary had the highest spectrum levels during ebb tides with acoustic energy from sediment transport extending well into higher frequencies (ca. 60 kHz), likely due to rapidly moving tidal flow and shifting sediment in that location. Drifter recordings near the estuary mouth and shallow tidal flats were lower amplitude. Noise levels generally varied during drifts (in one case up to ca. 6 dB) reflecting acoustic cues available to the local belugas. The moored recorder showed a substantially different spectral profile, especially at lower frequencies, perhaps due to its attachment to a pier piling and subsequent pier noise. Hearing sensitivity varied by individual and thresholds often fell above 1/3 octave-band noise levels, but not overall noise spectral density. Audiograms of the most sensitive animals closely paralleled the lowest ambient noise power spectral density curves, suggesting that an animal’s auditory dynamic range may extend to include its habitat’s quietest conditions. These data suggest a cautious approach is necessary when estimating the sound-sensitivity of odontocetes found in quiet environments as they may have sensitive auditory abilities that allow for hearing within the lowest noise-level conditions. Further, lower level ambient noise conditions could provide a conservative estimate of the maximal sensitivity of some cetacean populations within specific environments.
Long-duration recordings of the natural environment have many advantages in passive monitoring of animal diversity. Technological advances now enable the collection of far more audio than can be listened to, necessitating the development of scalable approaches for distinguishing signal from noise. Computational methods, using automated species recognisers, have improved in accuracy but require considerable coding expertise. The content of environmental recordings is unconstrained, and the creation of labelled datasets required for machine learning purposes is a time-consuming, expensive enterprise. Here, we describe a visual approach to the analysis of environmental recordings using long-duration false-colour (LDFC) spectrograms, prepared from combinations of spectral indices. The technique was originally developed to visualize 24-hour “soundscapes.” A soundscape is an ecoacoustics concept that encompasses the totality of sound in an ecosystem. We describe three case studies to demonstrate how LDFC spectrograms can be used, not only to study soundscapes, but also to monitor individual species within them. In the first case, LDFC spectrograms help to solve a “needle in the haystack” problem—to locate vocalisations of the furtive Lewin’s Rail (Tasmanian), Lewinia pectoralis brachipus. We extend the technique by using a machine learning method to scan multiple days of LDFC spectrograms. In the second case study, we demonstrate that frog choruses are easily identified in LDFC spectrograms because of their extended time-scale. Although calls of individual frogs are lost in the cacophony of sound, spectral indices can distinguish different chorus characteristics. Third, we demonstrate that the method can be extended to the detection of bat echolocation calls. By converting complex acoustic data into readily interpretable images, our practical approach bridges the gap between bioacoustics and ecoacoustics, encompassing temporal scales across three orders of magnitude. Using the one methodology, it is possible to monitor entire soundscapes and individual species within those soundscapes.
Journal of Ecoacoustics E-ISSN: 2516-1466