Using Soundscapes to Measure Biodiversity, Habitat Condition, and Environmental Change in Aquatic Ecosystems

2019-12-06T20:31:38Z (GMT) by Ben L Gottesman
Biodiversity loss is the silent crisis of the 21st century. Human activities are drastically altering the diversity of life on Earth, yet the extent of this transformation is shrouded by our limited information on biodiversity and how it is changing. Emerging technologies may be suited to fill this information gap, and as a result increase our capacity to measure and manage natural systems. Acoustic monitoring is a remote sensing technique that is rapidly reshaping the temporal and spatial scales with which we can assess animal biodiversity. Through recording and analyzing soundscapes—the collection of sounds occurring at a given place and time—we can assess biodiversity, habitat condition, and environmental change. However, the relationships between soundscapes and these three ecological dimensions are still in the early phases of categorization, especially in aquatic systems.

This dissertation investigates how soundscapes can be used to measure biodiversity, habitat condition, and environmental change in aquatic habitats. It addresses several knowledge gaps: First, I develop a framework for classifying unknown sounds within a soundscape, which I use to measure the acoustic diversity and dynamics within a tropical freshwater wetland. Second, I demonstrate that soundscapes can reflect the resilience of animal communities following disturbance events. Altered soundscapes revealed that Hurricane Maria, which swept through Puerto Rico in September 2017, impacted dry forest animal communities more than adjacent coral reef communities. Third, in kelp forest habitats off the coast of California, USA, I showed that soundscape variables correlated with ecological variables associated with regime shift in kelp forests, including urchin density, kelp cover, and fish diversity. Overall, this dissertation demonstrates that soundscape recording and analysis is a promising way to assess the ecological conditions of aquatic systems.