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Soundscape Ecology at NC State

What Is a Soundscape?

The “soundscape” refers to all the sounds that form an immersive environment.  Soundscapes comprise biological, physical, geological and human-produced sounds. Organisms, including humans, are constantly getting sensory information about our environment from the ambient soundscape.

The underwater soundscape reflects the combination of sources present in a given habitat and therefore is an information-rich sensory signal. Our research group is interested in the soundscape dynamics of estuarine and marine environments and how they influence ecological processes and ecosystem dynamics.

Most bottom-dwelling marine organisms (e.g. crabs, oysters, corals and reef fish) start their lives as small larvae that stay in the water column for days to months until they settle into adult habitat. Because most adult stages are sessile or sedentary, it is critical that larvae find a favorable location during their early life! Successful settlement and recruitment of new individuals is very important to the maintenance of marine populations and the structure of marine communities.

Since the underwater soundscape contains so much information about the physical and biological characteristics of a habitat, it might be a useful sensory signal for larvae that need to locate certain habitats. A major objective of our research group at NC State University is to investigate the sound characteristics of sub-tidal oyster reefs and determine whether these sounds influence settling larvae in the estuarine system.

Read about our research and our exciting discoveries about the role of underwater sound in larval settlement! You can read our recent publication on sound as a settlement for larval oysters here:

Assessing biodiversity and characterizing habitat quality and type can be difficult and time consuming, particularly in marine environments. Yet there is a need to assess habitat quality and biodiversity in order to effectively manage economically and ecologically important fish and invertebrate species that live in these coastal environments.

Though passive acoustics and ecoacoustic biodiversity indices have been used successfully in terrestrial systems, there is a lack of understanding how these methods can be effectively applied to marine systems. Since sampling can be challenging in marine environments, passive acoustic monitoring could provide a cost-effective way to assess habitat quality and biodiversity in these areas. One of the goals of our research group is to critically evaluate methods used in terrestrial systems for soundscapes recorded in estuarine habitats.

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