Listening forward: approaching marine biodiversity assessments using acoustic methods.
ABSTRACT: Ecosystems and the communities they support are changing at alarmingly rapid rates. Tracking species diversity is vital to managing these stressed habitats. Yet, quantifying and monitoring biodiversity is often challenging, especially in ocean habitats. Given that many animals make sounds, these cues travel efficiently under water, and emerging technologies are increasingly cost-effective, passive acoustics (a long-standing ocean observation method) is now a potential means of quantifying and monitoring marine biodiversity. Properly applying acoustics for biodiversity assessments is vital. Our goal here is to provide a timely consideration of emerging methods using passive acoustics to measure marine biodiversity. We provide a summary of the brief history of using passive acoustics to assess marine biodiversity and community structure, a critical assessment of the challenges faced, and outline recommended practices and considerations for acoustic biodiversity measurements. We focused on temperate and tropical seas, where much of the acoustic biodiversity work has been conducted. Overall, we suggest a cautious approach to applying current acoustic indices to assess marine biodiversity. Key needs are preliminary data and sampling sufficiently to capture the patterns and variability of a habitat. Yet with new analytical tools including source separation and supervised machine learning, there is substantial promise in marine acoustic diversity assessment methods.
Project description:There is now clear evidence that climate change affects terrestrial and marine ecosystems and can cause phenological shifts in behavior. Utilizing sound to demonstrate phenology is gaining popularity in terrestrial environments. In marine ecosystems, this technique is yet to be used due to a lack of multiyear datasets. Our study demonstrates soundscape phenology in an estuary using a six-year dataset. In this study, we showed that an increase in acoustic activity of snapping shrimp and certain fish species occurred earlier in years with warmer springs. In addition, we combined passive acoustics and traditional sampling methods (seines) and detected positive relationships between temporal patterns of the soundscape and biodiversity. This study shows that passive acoustics can provide information on the ecological response of estuaries to climate variability.
Project description:Different marine habitats are characterised by different soundscapes. How or which differences may be representative of the habitat characteristics and/or community structure remains however to be explored. A growing project in passive acoustics is to find a way to use soundscapes to have information on the habitat and on its changes. In this study we have successfully tested the potential of two acoustic indices, i.e. the average sound pressure level and the acoustic complexity index based on the frequency spectrum. Inside and outside marine protected areas of Moorea Island (French Polynesia), sound pressure level was positively correlated with the characteristics of the substratum and acoustic complexity was positively correlated with fish diversity. It clearly shows soundscape can be used to evaluate the acoustic features of marine protected areas, which presented a significantly higher ambient sound pressure level and were more acoustically complex than non-protected areas. This study further emphasizes the importance of acoustics as a tool in the monitoring of marine environments and in the elaboration and management of future conservation plans.
Project description:Seabirds are integral components of marine ecosystems and, with many populations globally threatened, there is a critical need for effective and scalable seabird monitoring strategies. Many seabird species nest in burrows, which can make traditional monitoring methods costly, infeasible, or damaging to nesting habitats. Traditional burrow occupancy surveys, where possible, can occur infrequently and therefore lead to an incomplete understanding of population trends. For example, in Oregon, during the last three decades there have been large changes in the abundance of Leach's storm-petrels (Hydrobates leucorhoa), which included drastic declines at some colonies. Unfortunately, traditional monitoring failed to capture the timing and magnitude of change, limiting managers' ability to determine causes of the decline and curtailing management options. New, easily repeatable methods of quantifying relative abundance are needed. For this study, we tested three methods of remote monitoring: passive acoustic monitoring, time-lapse cameras, and radar. Abundance indices derived from acoustics and imagery: call rates, acoustic energy, and counts were significantly related to traditional estimates of burrow occupancy of Leach's storm-petrels. Due to sampling limitations, we were unable to compare radar to burrow occupancy. Image counts were significantly correlated with all other indices, including radar, while indices derived from acoustics and radar were not correlated. Acoustic data likely reflect different aspects of the population and hold the potential for the further development of indices to disentangle phenology, attendance of breeding birds, and reproductive success. We found that image counts are comparable with standard methods (e.g., radar) in producing annual abundance indices. We recommend that managers consider a sampling scheme that incorporates both acoustics and imaging, but for sites inaccessible to humans, radar remains the sole option. Implementation of acoustic and camera based monitoring programs will provide much needed information for a vulnerable group of seabirds.
Project description:Collecting enough data to obtain reasonable abundance estimates of whales is often difficult, particularly when studying rare species. Passive acoustics can be used to detect whale sounds and are increasingly used to estimate whale abundance. Much of the existing effort centres on the use of acoustics to estimate abundance directly, e.g. analysing detections in a distance sampling framework. Here, we focus on acoustics as a tool incorporated within mark-recapture surveys. In this context, acoustic tools are used to detect and track whales, which are then photographed or biopsied to provide data for mark-recapture analyses. The purpose of incorporating acoustics is to increase the encounter rate beyond using visual searching only. While this general approach is not new, its utility is rarely quantified. This paper predicts the "acoustically-assisted" encounter rate using a discrete-time individual-based simulation of whales and survey vessel. We validate the simulation framework using existing data from studies of sperm whales. We then use the framework to predict potential encounter rates in a study of Antarctic blue whales. We also investigate the effects of a number of the key parameters on encounter rate. Mean encounter rates from the simulation of sperm whales matched well with empirical data. Variance of encounter rate, however, was underestimated. The simulation of Antarctic blue whales found that passive acoustics should provide a 1.7-3.0 fold increase in encounter rate over visual-only methods. Encounter rate was most sensitive to acoustic detection range, followed by vocalisation rate. During survey planning and design, some indication of the relationship between expected sample size and effort is paramount; this simulation framework can be used to predict encounter rates and establish this relationship. For a case in point, the simulation framework indicates unequivocally that real-time acoustic tracking should be considered for quantifying the abundance of Antarctic blue whales via mark-recapture methods.
Project description:While the Greenland and Barents Seas are known habitats for several cetacean and pinniped species there is a lack of long-term monitoring data in this rapidly changing environment. Moreover, little is known of the ambient soundscapes, and increasing off-shore anthropogenic activities can influence the ecosystem and marine life. Baseline acoustic data is needed to better assess current and future soundscape and ecosystem conditions. The analysis of a year of continuous data from three passive acoustic monitoring devices revealed species-dependent seasonal and spatial variation of a large variety of marine mammals in the Greenland and Barents Seas. Sampling rates were 39 and 78?kHz in the respective locations, and all systems were operational at a duty cycle of 2?min on, 30?min off. The research presents a description of cetacean and pinniped acoustic detections along with a variety of unknown low-frequency tonal sounds, and ambient sound level measurements that fall within the scope of the European Marine Strategy Framework (MSFD). The presented data shows the importance of monitoring Arctic underwater biodiversity for assessing the ecological changes under the scope of climate change.
Project description:Six baleen whale species are found in the temperate western North Atlantic Ocean, with limited information existing on the distribution and movement patterns for most. There is mounting evidence of distributional shifts in many species, including marine mammals, likely because of climate-driven changes in ocean temperature and circulation. Previous acoustic studies examined the occurrence of minke (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) and North Atlantic right whales (NARW; Eubalaena glacialis). This study assesses the acoustic presence of humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae), sei (B. borealis), fin (B. physalus), and blue whales (B. musculus) over a decade, based on daily detections of their vocalizations. Data collected from 2004 to 2014 on 281 bottom-mounted recorders, totaling 35,033 days, were processed using automated detection software and screened for each species' presence. A published study on NARW acoustics revealed significant changes in occurrence patterns between the periods of 2004-2010 and 2011-2014; therefore, these same time periods were examined here. All four species were present from the Southeast United States to Greenland; humpback whales were also present in the Caribbean. All species occurred throughout all regions in the winter, suggesting that baleen whales are widely distributed during these months. Each of the species showed significant changes in acoustic occurrence after 2010. Similar to NARWs, sei whales had higher acoustic occurrence in mid-Atlantic regions after 2010. Fin, blue, and sei whales were more frequently detected in the northern latitudes of the study area after 2010. Despite this general northward shift, all four species were detected less on the Scotian Shelf area after 2010, matching documented shifts in prey availability in this region. A decade of acoustic observations have shown important distributional changes over the range of baleen whales, mirroring known climatic shifts and identifying new habitats that will require further protection from anthropogenic threats like fixed fishing gear, shipping, and noise pollution.
Project description:Acoustics is the primary means of sensing and communication in the ocean for humans and many marine animals. Natural fluctuations in the ocean, however, degrade these abilities in ways that have been previously difficult to forecast. Here, we address this issue by predicting sensing and communication degradation in terms of acoustic attenuation, dispersion and temporal decorrelation at typical operational ranges and frequencies in continental-shelf environments. This is done with analytic expressions derived from first physical principles. The analytic expressions provide the statistics of the acoustic field after forward propagating through an ocean waveguide containing 3-D random inhomogeneities from the independent or combined effects of rough sea-surfaces, near-sea-surface air bubbles and internal waves. The formulation also includes Doppler effects caused by the inhomogeneities' random horizontal motion, enabling modeling and prediction over a wide range of environments and frequencies. Theoretical predictions are confirmed with available acoustic measurements in several continental-shelf environments using standard oceanographic measurements for environmental support. We quantify how the acoustic signals decorrelate over timescales determined by the underlying temporal coherence of ocean dynamic processes. Surface gravity waves and near-sea-surface air bubbles decorrelate acoustic signals over seconds or less, whereas internal waves affect acoustic coherence at timescales of several to tens of minutes. Doppler spread caused by the inhomogeneities' motion further reduces acoustic temporal coherence, and becomes important at the high frequencies necessary for communication and fine-scale sensing. We also show that surface gravity waves and bubbles in high sea states can cause increasingly significant attenuation as frequency increases. The typical durations of marine mammal vocalizations that carry over great distances are found to be consistent with the coherence timescales quantified here and so avoid random distortion of signal information even by incoherent reception.
Project description:Understanding how ocean currents impact the distribution and connectivity of marine species, provides vital information for the effective conservation management of migratory marine animals. Here, we used a combination of molecular genetics and ocean drift simulations to investigate the spatial ecology of juvenile green turtle (Chelonia mydas) developmental habitats, and assess the role of ocean currents in driving the dispersal of green turtle hatchlings. We analyzed mitochondrial (mt)DNA sequenced from 358 juvenile green turtles, and from eight developmental areas located throughout the Southwest Indian Ocean (SWIO). A mixed stock analysis (MSA) was applied to estimate the level of connectivity between developmental sites and published genetic data from 38 known genetic stocks. The MSA showed that the juvenile turtles at all sites originated almost exclusively from the three known SWIO stocks, with a clear shift in stock contributions between sites in the South and Central Areas. The results from the genetic analysis could largely be explained by regional current patterns, as shown by the results of passive numerical drift simulations linking breeding sites to developmental areas utilized by juvenile green turtles. Integrating genetic and oceanographic data helps researchers to better understand how marine species interact with ocean currents at different stages of their lifecycle, and provides the scientific basis for effective conservation management.
Project description:In recent years, the topic of noise in the sea and its effects on marine mammals has attracted considerable attention from both the scientific community and the general public. Since marine mammals rely heavily on acoustics as a primary means of communicating, navigating, and foraging in the ocean, any change in their acoustic environment may have an impact on their behavior. Specifically, a growing body of literature suggests that low-frequency, ambient noise levels in the open ocean increased approximately 3.3 dB per decade during the period 1950-2007. Here we show that this increase can be attributed primarily to commercial shipping activity, which in turn, can be linked to global economic growth. As a corollary, we conclude that ambient noise levels can be directly related to global economic conditions. We provide experimental evidence supporting this theory and discuss its implications for predicting future noise levels based on global economic trends.
Project description:The Acoustic Complexity Index (ACI) is increasingly applied to the study of biodiversity in aquatic habitats. However, it remains unknown which types of acoustic information are highlighted by this index in underwater environments. This study explored the robustness of the ACI to fine variations in fish sound abundance (i.e. number of sounds) and sound diversity (i.e. number of sound types) in field recordings and controlled experiments. The ACI was found to be sensitive to variations in both sound abundance and sound diversity, making it difficult to discern between these variables. Furthermore, the ACI was strongly dependent on the settings used for its calculation (i.e. frequency and temporal resolution of the ACI algorithm, amplitude filter). Care should thus be taken when comparing ACI absolute values between studies, or between sites with site-specific characteristics (e.g. species diversity, fish vocal community composition). As the use of ecoacoustic indices presents a promising tool for the monitoring of vulnerable environments, methodological validations like those presented in this paper are of paramount importance in understanding which biologically important information can be gathered by applying acoustic indices to Passive Acoustic Monitoring data.