Coral Reef Soundscapes: Spatiotemporal Variability and Links to Species Assemblages

Maxwell Kaplan, Ph.D., 2017
Aran Mooney, Advisor

Coral reefs are biodiverse ecosystems that are constantly in a state of flux: resident species assemblages can vary considerably in space and time. However, the drivers of this variability are poorly understood. Because many reef animals produce and use sound, recording the ambient soundscape of a reef might be one way to efficiently study these habitats. In this thesis, I develop and apply a suite of tools to characterize marine soundscapes. First, I investigate links between fauna and acoustic signatures on reefs located in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Second, I compare those findings to a more expansive study that I conducted in Maui, Hawaii. Third, I investigate the distances over which sound may travel away from the reef. Fourth, I assess the extent to which the presence of vessel noise in shallow-water habitats changes the ambient soundscape. Finally, I present the results of a modeling exercise that questions how ocean noise resulting from commercial shipping activity might change over the next two decades. The tools presented here can be applied easily to marine soundscapes to gain insight into ecosystem function and the extent of human activity in those habitats.